Tom: Good morning, Mellody Hobson!
Mellody: Good morning! We are talking about retirement again today and this time we are focusing on Generation X.
Generation X is made up of those of us who were born between 1965 and 1978. At this point, this generation is in the prime of their careers, and probably earning more than they will at any other point in their life. We also have to remember that fortune smiled on Generation X, as most of their career saw positive economic developments. People in this age group earn substantially more money than their parents did at the same point in their lives, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
The typical Gen-X household earns nearly $12,000 more than its parents’ household did at the same age, adjusted for inflation and household size. Total labor force participation has risen strongly during most of their working lifetimes. And, on top of that, the gains were comprehensive. Income has risen for every quintile, and for all races. All in all, my generation has seen prosperity. Today, we will talk about how that has translated into the retirement landscape ahead!
Tom: What defines Generation X in terms of their retirement approach?
Mellody: Generation X is, for the most part, the most realistic generation when it comes to what will be required for retirement. They are most aware of the amount they will need for retirement, with the median response being one million dollars. Additionally, you could call GenX the 401(k) generation. They entered the workforce in the late 1980s just as 401(k)s were making their first appearance and pensions and other defined benefit plans were disappearing for the average American.
As a result, Generation X is the first generation of Americans to have access to 401(k)s for most if not all of their career. Due to all of these preparations, just 54% of GenX plans to work past 65, while 65% of boomers and 60% of millennials plan to work in retirement. And yet, with all of this forward thinking and understanding of what needs to be done, they have not always kept up with their retirement visions.
Tom: How are they doing in terms of preparation?
Mellody: Relatively well. Most GenXers have planned to count on self-funding their retirement and have acted accordingly. But there is definitely room for improvement in some areas. Lets look at some numbers from a Transamerica center study of retirement habits by generation. In terms of access to retirement plans, Generation X wins out over their fellow Americans in other age brackets with 74% having access, compared to only 62% of millennials.
They also take advantage of this fact, as 84 percent of workers offered a retirement plan taking advantage of it, compared to 81% of boomer and 71% of millennials. However, they contribute the smallest percentage of their salary to their plans – just 7% – the lowest contribution rate of the three cohorts. In addition, more than one quarter of Generation X respondents (27 percent) report that they have taken a loan or early withdrawal. That number for millennials is 20%. Finally, GenX has seen a lower annualized return on investments than their parents, and has had a lower savings rate that their parents.
Tom: Given these numbers, what is most important for those in the middle of their career to think about going forward?
Mellody: There are two big takeaways from these number that will help Generation X improve their retirement outlook, but let me first say this. The most important thing to remember for people in this age bracket is that you still have time to improve your lot. Do not give up, just because you haven’t started yet. If you fall into this cohort, you still have 15 to 20 years to make a difference!
Tom: Now, how do you do that?
Mellody: Well, I mentioned that Generation X has the lowest retirement plan contribution rate of any of the three I mentioned. That has to change. Increase your retirement contributions now! There are two good reasons to keep it high, and there are interrelated. First, you are likely in the midst of the best earning period in your life – take advantage of that. Second, when you do, you will also be shielding yourself from some taxes, because these contributions will not be taxed.
The second big takeaway here? Stop taking money out of your retirement account! While it may be tempting, you have to resist the urge. As I have said many times before, your retirement accounts should be sacrosanct, and the lifetime earnings you lose not having your money invested really adds up.
Tom: Any other outstanding things generation Xers need to think about?
Mellody: Another big piece of the puzzle for GenX is student loans. Nearly half of the $1 trillion dollars in loans is held by borrowers between 30 and 50. If you can prioritize paying down high-interest debt, do so, as it will allow that money you save in interest to be gaining interest in the market!
Tom: Always great to have you, Mellody!
Mellody is President of Ariel investments, a Chicago-based money management firm that serves individual investors and retirement plans through its no-load mutual funds and separate accounts. Additionally, she is a regular financial contributor and analyst for CBS News.