12 Reasons Gen X Isn’t Ready for Retirement


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If you were born between 1965 and 1980, congratulations. You’re a member of Generation X, the folks who brought grunge, flannel, and chronic under-employment to the masses. Much has been said about Gen Xers since they became a force in the 1990s, and a lot of it characterized them as lazy and unambitious – “slackers” even.


While the Gen X appellation was coined to describe a youth culture, that generation now consists of people in their mid-40s at the younger end or people getting uncomfortably close to the big 6-0 at the older end. That’s a time in life when you’re expected to have your act together and be prepared for the future, but the hard fact is that many people in this group are just not there yet and may never get there. Here are twelve reasons why that is.

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1. Student Loan Debt

Remember college? Remember being young, supple, and having your whole life ahead of you? That probably feels like a long time ago, but some Gen Xers receive monthly reminders of that decades-old period in the form of student loan bills, which they’re still paying off even in their 40s and 50s. Will Generation X be the first to become eligible for Social Security while still paying for classes they slept through when they were 19? We’ll find out in a few years.

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2. Caring for Aging Parents

Part of the reason why Gen X isn’t ready for retirement is due to their resources being used to help their parents, who have aged out of the workforce without necessarily being ready for retirement either. This has led some to describe Gen X as a “sandwich generation,” which means they’re taking care of both their parents and their kids, which can put a lot of strain on almost any bank account.

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3. Delayed Career Advancement

They certainly weren’t the only ones, but Gen X has lived through some tough economic downturns, such as the one that occurred in the early 1990s just as they graduated from college and tried to join the workforce. Many Gen Xers had only pursued higher education in the first place because, back then, not going to college was considered the province of the do-nothing layabout, and you were expected to have a college diploma if you wanted a job. Worse yet, many of these same Gen Xers were finally getting into an employment groove when the 2008 financial crisis hit. Long story short, many Gen Xers have seen career advancement elude them.

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4. The Gig Economy

Many Gen Xers have had to supplement their incomes by taking gig work without a standard salary or benefits. That usually means making ends meet every month with income from numerous sources, none of which are enough to make a living with on their own. Far from being “lazy,” many Gen Xers will walk dogs, wait tables, and work for DoorDash, hoping that all three incomes combined will cover basic necessities. In other words, the gig economy has been keeping Gen Xers alive while making it impossible to live any way besides hand-to-mouth, and it’s hard to put one-third of that salary into a savings account every month when you need every last cent just to keep the lights on.

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5. Financial Responsibilities

Not every Gen Xer has had a hard time finding full-time, salaried work, and many people who grew up on MTV are holding pretty nice jobs.

Unfortunately, much of that full-time salary has to go directly to mortgage payments, healthcare costs, high-interest credit card debt, and other must-pay expenses that are not cheap by a long shot. This has put many Gen Xers with good jobs in the same situation as their peers who work for a living as Uber drivers – struggling to make ends meet and unable to save for a rainy day.

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6. The Job Market

Has there ever been a time when the job market seemed stable, crisis-free, and full of opportunities for Gen Xers? The financial news may report stock market activity as a bellwether for the health of the overall economy, but many Gen Xers don’t play the stock market for the same reason they’re not ready for retirement – the money simply isn’t there. That leaves the unemployment rate as a more relevant yardstick to judge the economy, but to many Gen Xers, the job market has never seemed stable. Despite rosy prognostications about the economy, the jobs rarely seem to be out there. 

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7. Rising Cost of Living

The cost of living has been rising since time immemorial due to factors such as inflation, supply chain issues, and the occasional super-virus shutting the world down for a year. One thing that has not gone up at the same rate as the cost of living has been the minimum wage, or wages generally. So, if you’re paying seven dollars for a gallon of gas and your salary is $15 an hour, you may find it challenging to create a nest egg.

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8. No Pension Plans

Unlike previous generations, many of us don’t have access to pension plans. These were once something you could rely on when you wrapped up your career as a teacher (for example), but it’s slowly dying out as a custom, as some sectors of the economy become less friendly to people who hope to retire someday. The advice people frequently get for this state of affairs is to start saving their money, but if you’re living paycheck to paycheck and have all your bills on second notice, that simply won’t happen.

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9. Changing Social Security Landscape

Various politicians, such as Rick Scott of Florida and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, have said on more than one occasion that the cost of keeping Social Security going is burdensome to the overall economy and should be put out to pasture as a practice. If this effort is successful, and Social Security is either compromised or done away with altogether, many Gen Xers will face a stark choice – keep working until you die or go live in a refrigerator box. If you think things are dire now, eliminating Social Security will transform the economic landscape, and not in a good way, particularly for people who have been paying into it for years.

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10. Longer Life Expectancy

As far as medical advances go, the human race has never had it so good. People are living longer, and even diseases like cancer that were once untreatable can now be survived with the right medical team and technology. All fine and good, but having one’s life expectancy stretched out another couple of decades means needing the money to pay for those decades, and a lot of Gen Xers don’t and never will. We’re not saying it was better when the average life expectancy was 50, but people who dropped dead during what we now call “middle age” never needed to save for retirement, so look on the bright side.

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11. Supporting Adult Children

Gen Xers who got into the child-rearing business in their 20s are now the proud parents of adult children, and these adult children are facing circumstances similar to those that their parents did. In some cases, this leaves their kids to continue living at home, and Gen X parents generally have to shoulder some of the cost. Furthermore, since many unemployed 20-somethings can lose heart pretty quickly, they may be hard to dislodge from their parents’ homes. After all, if you’re getting free room and board from people who will never kick you out – and most of us won’t – then why would they change anything?

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12. Late Start on Retirement Savings

For all the reasons listed above, many Gen Xers are not ready to retire. However, even those who intend to leave the workforce at some point may not be able to because of factors like gig economy, recessions, student debt, and so on, hamstrung Gen Xers so much that even the ones who hope to retire may have started saving for it too late to create a solid nest egg. If you don’t start saving until you’re in your 50s, you may not have much to show for it in your 60s.

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