As if people in their 30s didn’t have enough to deal with trying to save twice their income by 35: Americans in this age group are also at most risk of being left behind by the Great Recession.
The median wealth of a family headed by someone born in the 1980s remained 34% below the level predicted by researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, based on their experience of earlier generations at the same age. “The corresponding shortfalls of the 1960s cohort (minus 11%) and the 1970s cohort (minus 18%) are worrying, but are much smaller,” the report said. It used data from 47,776 families in the Survey of Consumer Finances between 1989 and 2016.
“Alone among the six cohorts in the report, “The Demographics of Wealth,” the typical 1980s family lost more ground between 2010 and 2016. “This represents a missed opportunity because asset appreciation is unlikely to be as rapid in the near future as it was during the recent period,” the report said. But it added that those born in the 1980s have more time to get back on track and are among the most educated and, therefore, potentially highest-earning generations.
The Fed report estimated that the typical net worth of a family headed by someone who is 24 years old is approximately $5,072. The net worth of the family of a typical 30-year-old is about $25,989, or 412% more than that 24-year-old’s family. However, the family of a typical 48-year-old has a net worth of $130,454, some 402% more than the 30-year-old level. “The Great Recession and its aftermath significantly widened the wealth gap between young and old,” it concluded.
Those born in the 1970s—Generation X—were the second most at risk for accumulating less wealth over their lifetime. Like the typical 1980s family, this generation also carries “an extraordinarily high debt burden compared to previous cohorts,” the report said. Starting life with higher student debt than baby boomers also makes it harder for Gene Xers and millennials to get financially established. These two generations are also more likely to compete for jobs, experts say.
Millennials are less likely than their predecessors to hit the typical 30-something milestones. In 1974, three in four 30-year-olds had gotten married, had a child, graduated from school and had lived on their own before marriage. In 2015, only one in three could say the same, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released last year. What’s more, the share of recent graduates moving back into their parents’ homes increased to 28% in 2016 from 19% in 2005.
The economic downturn of 2008/2009 inflicted long-term losses on American wealth. “The fact that many families suffered large wealth setbacks during their prime earning and wealth-accumulation years raises the question of whether they will be able to rebuild their wealth to meet major saving goals, including for a home purchase, college tuition for their children and retirement,” the latest Fed report said. “What a difference half a century makes. If, that is, you’re not living in the U.S.”
Of course, some 30-somethings get a bad rap for the behavior of others. Case in point: Mark and Christina Rotondo, a couple living in Camillus, N.Y., left a series of eviction requests for their 30-year-old son Michael and, having failed to shift him, turned to the courts to evict him from their home. Onondaga County Supreme Court Justice Donald Greenwood said it was “outrageous” that their son should be living with this parents six months after receiving an eviction notice.
The Pew Research Center, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C., recently asked nearly 43,000 people in 38 countries around the globe whether they were doing better than the previous generation. Residents in 20 countries said people like them were better off than they were 50 years ago. In Vietnam, 88% felt better off, followed by India (69%) and South Korea (68%). The U.S. was among 18 countries in which people said they were actually worse off than half a century ago.
In the U.S., the middle class made up just 26% of incomes in 2014, down from 46% in 1979, adjusted for inflation, according to a report released last June by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit policy group. The upper middle class controlled 63% of all income in 2014, up from just 30% in 1979. And it isn’t because more middle-class Americans are richer: Middle-income households make up 120.8 million of the population, almost as much as upper middle- and lower-income Americans combined.