The Great Recession wrecked Generation X

A new report finds this demographic lost nearly half its wealth between 2007 and 2010 -- and it will struggle to recoup.

By Jason Notte Jun 4, 2013 9:27AM
Unemployed man (© Alan K. Bailey/SuperStock)For a bunch of Americans who've never needed much help being angsty and despondent, Generation X is sure getting a lot of it.

Let's forget, for a moment, Gizmodo's 2-year-old, profanity-laced assertion that Gen X is older, more tired and far more indebted than it once was. All that is true. Now the Pew Charitable Trusts says the leading edge of Generation X -- folks born from 1966 to 1975 -- lost about 45% of its wealth during the Great Recession.

This is a generation that graduated amid one recession, missed out on the dot-com bubble that preceded it, missed out on the housing boom because it couldn't scrape together enough cash and was plunged headlong into yet another recession, thanks to the housing bust that followed.

Gen X has since watched what little net worth it had plummet from an average of $75,000 in 2007 to just $42,000 in 2010.

That $33,000 loss isn't nearly as much as the nearly $75,000 lost by baby boomers born just after World War II, but at least that group is still sitting on roughly $170,000 apiece, thanks to the cash it made during the dot-com and housing booms. Pew concluded that not only did Gen X lose out during the housing bubble because of its low rate of homeownership but that "Gen Xers are the least financially secure and the most likely to experience downward mobility in retirement.”


So all of that "Reality Bites"/"Singles" introspection and nihilism that were so roundly mocked after the '90s as being somewhat overdramatic for a generation that lacked "real" problems? Turns out they were totally justified.

All of that Winona Ryder/Ethan Hawke dialogue about being the first generation to do worse than their parents? Even Pew thinks they were on to something, saying "early boomers may be the last cohort on track to retire with enough savings and assets to maintain their financial security through their golden years."

Is there any consolation for a generation that still has to go rooting around its couch for spare change when it wants to go see a showing of "Before Midnight"? Just the fact that the generations that have come after it are in pretty tough shape as well.

Unemployed millennials are still waiting for baby boomers to retire -- which looks increasingly less likely -- while college graduates are the only ones seeing any job recovery after the recession but are still stuck in minimum-wage gigs.


More on moneyNOW

Jun 4, 2013 10:41AM
Generation X may have missed out on the booms, but we are the last generation to be able to play outside and come home when the street lights turned on without our parents being worried sick. I'll take that childhood over what these kids today are faced with.
Jun 4, 2013 12:40PM

Generation X is the last hard-working, tough, moral, and honest generation we'll see, unless things change drastically. 


We may struggle from time to time, but we won't quit trying and we don't expect anyone to give us a free ride.

Jun 4, 2013 10:21AM
Not enough about money was taught in school.
Jun 4, 2013 10:28AM
Not enough ethics were taught to those with money.
Jun 4, 2013 10:31AM
I don't care if you were 8 or 80 years old between 2007 and 2010, if you were invested, you lost half of what you had.
Jun 4, 2013 1:25PM
I really wish they'd stop calling it the great recession & start calling it the great depression part II. And it's still going on too despite all this HORSESHlT I see in the media about how everything is doing soooo great now. You can't & never will fool me into believing that the current state of this country is acceptable. Cut out the nonsensical political dick waving already & actually get something productive done on the economy for a change. 
Jun 4, 2013 11:12AM
Rubbish.  I was born in 1966 and my net worth has gone up considerably.  It's all about choices.  I had no idea when the market would bottom in 2009 but I knew it would - because it always has in the past.  I just lived within my means, invested 15% of my income, held no debt outside of a mortgage and held on for the long-term.  Those plain vanilla mutual fund shares I bought in late 2008 and early 2009 have more than doubled in value.  Again, it's not rocket science.  It's just about making educated choices and not basing your investment decisions on emotion - especially greed in up markets and fear in down markets.
Jun 4, 2013 12:03PM
Gen X will have enough time to recover from the crash, and like the generation that survived the Great Depression, they will be much more careful with their money because of this experience.  Boomers who saw their 401K's and IRA's drop 40% during this period may not have enough time to fully recover,  which helps explain why so many Boomers are delaying retirement.
Jun 4, 2013 10:53AM
The poster is right, if you were invested then, age wasn't the issue, the Market decline affected everyone that sold. If you didn't and the company didn't go under, it was merely a paper loss. As of now, the Markets are at Records. The bigger issue is that of WAGES. Those are the same of 10 years ago or lower. Meanwhile those at the top, theirs are far higher. That's the real issue. The Great Recession was so BAD that Corporations are now sitting on RECORD PROFITS AND RECORD CASH ON HAND! Hows that working out for the average Joe/Sue.
Jun 4, 2013 1:02PM
I was born in 1969 and I say its about adaptability and hard work. You can't fall into this new era of victimization. We all make our own choices and more times than not create our own successes and failures.

Adapt, adapt, adapt, and you will be just fine.

Jun 4, 2013 12:53PM
If you think the recession was bad, just wait until the bill comes for the $17 trillion that the pig has blown.
Jun 4, 2013 10:34AM
bid government + big banksters= chaos.
Jun 4, 2013 10:48AM
The GR hurt everyone, not just Gen X.  I don't have any special compassion for any one age group.
Jun 4, 2013 10:29AM
We need to implement a national sales tax and get rid of the income tax. The tax should be levied on everything except food & utilities . There are a lot of calls for a flat tax - This will not work because of the high number of cash transactions occurring. Regardless of how high you make a flat tax, you will miss the dollars to those workers being paid cash plus illegal money from drugs, prostitution, gambling. These people pay no income tax at any rate - but they so have to buy clothes, cars , furniture etc. Also the government will only have to contend with making sure the tax from business is collected and no longer have to deal with the burden of personal tax returns.
Jun 4, 2013 12:10PM

Gen X and Gen Y etc might do worse than the boomers---but I don't agree with the premise of this article. First of all, Gen X does not end in 1975. Secondly, Gen X did not miss the tech bubble. They helped create it! Gen X innovated and the Boomers looked at how they could monetize that innovation, take the money and RUN. It will be really interesting to see what happens with Web 2.0 and 3.0 now that many of the Venture Capatalists are Gen X.


We live in scary and complicated times, and sometimes we all miss the 90's. But the only way we are going to figure this out is if we educate ourselves and look beond the rhetoric. There are complicated questions that should have been asked in this article that don't fit neatly into 1000 words.


I hope somebody with an audience has the courage to ask them someday.

Jun 4, 2013 12:49PM
The greed of the big corporations have doomed not just GenX but all of the ones that will follow. No retirement, no access to health care, no jobs, real estate has become a commodity that trades like stocks and soon no social security. Both Republicans and Democrats in power play to the music of the big corporations and Wall street. It is time for more than two options, it is time that we elect a third party to the government and send a message to those in power both corporations and politicians, that we are not going to take it anymore.
Jun 4, 2013 11:55AM

I think this article is off the mark by a wide margin -


Born in 1967, married in 1996 and feel great about where we are financially and where we are going.  Graduated from college into a recession in 1989, paid a lot of dues in the career, MBA at night, continued buying equities throughout the recession,  lived within our means, 2 income family then - now 1 income family by choice.


I remember when college grads were making more than me becuase of the tech boom,  people younger than us were buying bigger houses because of the housing boom.  A lot of expectations needed to be reset to reality during the recession.


I think because we never had too easy we were less likely to expect too much too soon. 

Jun 4, 2013 12:45PM
Sometimes you get the chicken, sometimes you get the feathers, economies are like that.  You just have to do the best you can.
Jun 4, 2013 12:39PM
What a load of crap. I'm so sick of all this gender, age and status crap generalization. These idiots are paid to much money for all the divisive **** they spew.
Jun 4, 2013 12:53PM
And now that the great recession has put big holes in retirement funds, companies are changing retirement options so that Gen Xers have to work longer and have to sacrifice their future so the baby boomers who are retiring now can retire on the backs of the younger generations. The justification being that "Younger people will have time to adjust". Adjust to what? the idea of a lower standard of living? Working until we die?
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