Dec 1, 2018

4. Gen X bought the most homes, but debt killed their American Dream

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Data: Kurz et al. 2018; Chart: Naema Ahmed and Harry Stevens/Axios

When Generation X was the age of millennials, they had significantly more financial assets — more even than the Boomer generation before them, according to a new report by the Federal Reserve Bank.

If any generation could be called "entitled," it might have been Gen Xers — if it weren't for the typically large debt that ultimately crushed their chances of wealth.

  • The economic environment in the years immediately before the financial crash made it easy for young adults at the time — members of Generation X, born from 1965 to 1980 — to buy homes, cars and other properties, and to invest in stocks.
  • But when you subtract the average Gen Xer's debt — mostly the easy-to-obtain mortgages — they weren't much better off than young Boomers before them, Bill Emmons, assistant vice president at the Fed in St. Louis, tells Axios.

By the numbers: More than half of Gen Xers owned homes when they were 21 to 36, around the age of millennials today. Just 33.9% of the same age group in 2016 owned homes, the Fed said.

  • Young Gen Xers were also more likely to own stock at that age than millennials or boomers, at 28%, compared with 15% and 14%, respectively.
  • Millennials lacked the same financial opportunity to buy homes as Gen Xers at their age, and "as house prices have grown, they haven't been able to cash into that in the same way," said Lowell Rickets, of the St. Louis Fed's Center for Household Financial Stability.
  • But even with the student debt crisis, millennial median and average debt is less than that of the generation before them when they were the same age, according to the report.

The bottom line: With the financial crash, the investments that Gen Xers made when they were young still haven't really paid off, according to Emmons, and ultimately left them worse off. Millennials may not bear the same risk as Gen Xers did, but they are still having trouble accumulating wealth, partly because of student debt.

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