Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Generation X’s Defeatists Grew Up…And Are Still Despondent

 

Gen-X-logo Some movies improve with age. Both Fight Club and The Big Lebowski are adored now, but neither were critical favorites when they debuted. On the other hand, there are movies to which time and age have not been kind: Bill Murray’s’ Meatballs and — I argue — 1994’s Reality Bites.

That latter, oft-celebrated but mediocre film got more love than it deserved. Lelaina (Winona Ryder), the valedictorian of her college class, camcords (remember those?) her friends in a mock documentary of post-education life at the apex of grunge. The movie begins with Lelaina giving an ad-libbed valedictorian’s speech at graduation because, like, she either forgot to write one, or lost her notes, or something. Meaning: valedictorian speeches are totally empty because they represent adherence to the way things are always done…or, you know, like…tradition.

And they wonder why those of us in our 20s refuse to work an 80-hour week, just so we can afford to buy their BMWs. Why we aren’t interested in the counterculture that they invented, as if we did not see them disembowel their revolution for a pair of running shoes. But the question remains, what are we going to do now? How can we repair all the damage we inherited? Fellow graduates, the answer is simple. The answer is… The answer is… I don’t know.

Each generation is represented by a rebellious counterculture. I grew up on a steady diet of James Dean, Peter Fonda/Dennis Hopper/Jack Nicholson, Marlon Brando, etc. These guys rebelled against something, whether it was Vietnam, or the strictness of their Greatest Generation parents. But Gen-X really didn’t have much to complain about. Children of the Boomers, we really never knew Vietnam other than from our TVs. The late ’60s and ’70s were just a steady stream of bad sitcoms, station wagon excursions, and consumerism.

Us ‘elder’ Gen X’ers had already graduated college and were climbing the socio-economic ladder when Reality Bites hit its celebrated societal mark.

It was then that we realized that the rebels of our youth were now being replaced by kids a few years younger than us, who complained about such scourges of society as the emptiness of gainful employment. So, for many, Reality Bites felt like a long list of jaded ideological complaints fueled by apathy and laziness. Not how I wanted the world to view my generation.

Sure, I was just as upset when Nike used The Beatles “Revolution” to sell sneakers. On the other hand, consumerism may just provide you a job and a living so you don’t have to sponge off others in your flannels and Doc Martins.

Now, we are all grown up. Many Gen X’ers (like myself) are barreling towards 50. Once that was old. Now, it’s the new (fill-in-the blank).

Bloomberg Business ran an article this week called Gen X Was Right: Reality Really Does Bite.

The members of Generation X have plenty to be grumpy about. For starters, no one talks about them anymore. It’s all millennials all the time. There’s another reason Americans born between 1965 and 1980 are gloomy: Gen X’ers are in even worse shape financially than the baby boomers who preceded them or the millennials who followed.

It goes on to explain that Gen X’ers are a financial mess due to wages not increasing, extreme levels of debt, no meaningful retirement savings, and a series of badly-timed crises that hit them hardest:

They entered the workforce during the recession of the 1990s and then, just as they were getting their footing, the dot-com bubble burst. As the housing market picked up in the 2000s, some bought homes at high prices only to see real estate values plummet during the financial crisis.

They were the hardest hit generation during the Great Recession, losing almost half their wealth when the stock market slumped, compared with about 25 percent for baby boomers, according to a 2013 Pew Charitable Trusts survey.

The last quote tells a jarring story about Gen X, which is usually only quietly discussed between spouses or close friends. Many had to cash in what remained of 401(k)s to survive the Great Recession and have not yet recouped any semblance of a realistic retirement plan. With kids going to college, many are paying as they go, or relying solely on scholarships, community college or — worse yet — massive loans that won’t be repaid in our lifetimes. Retirement is coming, and quick.

What happens in the next 20 years as we physically slow down? What happens if/when we get sick? What happens if/when we have another financial crisis?

Fellow Ricochetti, the answer is simple. The answer is… The answer is… I don’t know.

There are 39 comments.

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  1. Profile Photo Member

    And yet, I’ll venture that GenXers have a higher participation rate in the labor force than either millenials or later baby-boomers.

    Oh, and in answer to your last questions, we GenXers (I’m 44) will be the first generation for whom retirement wealth will be LOWER than the previous generation. So based on that, we’ll be working into our early 70s.

    • #1
    • June 10, 2015, at 1:54 PM PST
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  2. Profile Photo Member

    And BTW, it’s very likely that the first GenX president (and likely the next one after that) will be a Republican. That person will likely be a cross between Jack Kemp, Paul Ryan, and Augusto Pinochet.

    If I’m a millennial that is to the right of, say, the Black Lives Matter crowd, I’d be a little bit apprehensive about that.

    • #2
    • June 10, 2015, at 1:59 PM PST
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  3. Palaeologus Inactive

    David Sussman:Retirement is coming, and quick.

    What happens in the next 20 years as we physically slow down?

    What happens if/when we get sick?

    What happens if/when we have another financial crisis?

    Fellow Ricochetti, the answer is simple. The answer is… The answer is… I don’t know.

    “If you ever need anything please don’t, hesitate to ask someone else first. I’m too busy acting like I’m not naive. I’ve seen it all. I was here first.”

    -Kurt Cobain

    *The preceding quotation was typed on a desktop PC by a dude sporting 90210 sideburns and a flannel.

    • #3
    • June 10, 2015, at 2:46 PM PST
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  4. Barkha Herman Member

    Hmm. I am a GenXer and I do not resemble much of this sentiment. But I never made a good scientific sample. I grew up in India, though, and wonder if that makes any difference.

    the next twenty years will be interesting indeed.

    • #4
    • June 10, 2015, at 2:53 PM PST
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  5. Palaeologus Inactive

    David Sussman: “They entered the workforce during the recession of the 1990s and then, just as they were getting their footing, the dot-com bubble burst. As the housing market picked up in the 2000s, some bought homes at high prices only to see real estate values plummet during the financial crisis.

    More seriously, this is generally true.

    However, there are an awful lot of X-ers who benefited big time from the 90’s boom.

    Also, while I fall into the category of clowns who drastically overpayed for a house in the early 2000’s, many of us still own those places and rent them. At least in the Rust Belt, it isn’t uncommon to know forty-somethings who own multiple homes. That type of thing was only for the hotshots when I was a kid.

    Will that pay off over time? I dunno, but it wouldn’t shock me.

    • #5
    • June 10, 2015, at 3:01 PM PST
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  6. Dave Sussman Contributor
    Dave Sussman Post author

    Brad2971:And BTW, it’s very likely that the first GenX president (and likely the next one after that) will be a Republican. That person will likely be a cross between Jack Kemp, Paul Ryan, and Augusto Pinochet.

    If I’m a millennial that is to the right of, say, the Black Lives Matter crowd, I’d be a little bit apprehensive about that.

    Interesting point. As millennials outnumber Gen Ex by a significant margin, are you saying that does not bode well for Conservatism?

    • #6
    • June 10, 2015, at 3:56 PM PST
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  7. Dave Sussman Contributor
    Dave Sussman Post author

    Barkha Herman:Hmm. I am a GenXer and I do not resemble much of this sentiment. But I never made a good scientific sample. I grew up in India, though, and wonder if that makes any difference.

    the next twenty years will be interesting indeed.

    The sweeping generalization of that movie portraying Gen X through grunge colored glasses was abhorrent to many of us. But as you stated regarding the future, we better tighten our safety belts. It could be a bumpy ride.

    • #7
    • June 10, 2015, at 4:01 PM PST
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  8. Dave Sussman Contributor
    Dave Sussman Post author

    Palaeologus:

    David Sussman: “They entered the workforce during the recession of the 1990s and then, just as they were getting their footing, the dot-com bubble burst. As the housing market picked up in the 2000s, some bought homes at high prices only to see real estate values plummet during the financial crisis.

    More seriously, this is generally true.

    However, there are an awful lot of X-ers who benefited big time from the 90′s boom.

    Also, while I fall into the category of clowns who drastically overpayed for a house in the early 2000′s, many of us still own those places and rent them. At least in the Rust Belt, it isn’t uncommon to know forty-somethings who own multiple homes. That type of thing was only for the hotshots when I was a kid.

    Will that pay off over time? I dunno, but it wouldn’t shock me.

    In areas of the country where the market didn’t increase 3x, there was more stability when it tanked. There are successes in every recession, and timing plays a roll, as well as a little bit of luck. Anyone that can ride out the peaks and valleys should always do ok over time.

    • #8
    • June 10, 2015, at 4:07 PM PST
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  9. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    Indeed, we Generation Xers (I’m 40) have much to be apprehensive about. I think the dystopia of Dan Simmons’ Flashback may be closer to our actual future than many think.

    • #9
    • June 10, 2015, at 4:23 PM PST
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  10. Dave Sussman Contributor
    Dave Sussman Post author

    Mike LaRoche:Indeed, we Generation Xers (I’m 40) have much to be apprehensive about. I think the dystopia of Dan Simmons’ Flashback may be closer to our actual future than many think.

    Great book review Mike. Thanks for the link.

    • #10
    • June 10, 2015, at 5:17 PM PST
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  11. Profile Photo Member

    David Sussman:

    Brad2971:And BTW, it’s very likely that the first GenX president (and likely the next one after that) will be a Republican. That person will likely be a cross between Jack Kemp, Paul Ryan, and Augusto Pinochet.

    If I’m a millennial that is to the right of, say, the Black Lives Matter crowd, I’d be a little bit apprehensive about that.

    Interesting point. As millennials outnumber Gen Ex by a significant margin, are you saying that does not bode well for Conservatism?

    If you are looking for popularity from millennials anytime in the next 10 or so years, you’d better think again. Note how I describe the next GOP President. Do you see anything regarding being popular?

    • #11
    • June 10, 2015, at 6:06 PM PST
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  12. Douglas Inactive

    Mike LaRoche:Indeed, we Generation Xers (I’m 40) have much to be apprehensive about. I think the dystopia of Dan Simmons’ Flashback may be closer to our actual future than many think.

    Could be worse. Could be Johnny Mnemonic.

    • #12
    • June 10, 2015, at 10:45 PM PST
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  13. Vince Guerra Member

    Regarding the problem of sending kids to college, I have a solution: Don’t.

    Or (to quote my favorite Gen-X movie),

    “Eventually you’re going to get smart and learn a couple of things. ..You just dropped a hundred grand on an education you could have gotten for three dollars in late fees at the public library.” from Good Will Hunting

    • #13
    • June 11, 2015, at 1:22 AM PST
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  14. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    Douglas:

    Mike LaRoche:Indeed, we Generation Xers (I’m 40) have much to be apprehensive about. I think the dystopia of Dan Simmons’ Flashback may be closer to our actual future than many think.

    Could be worse. Could be Johnny Mnemonic.

    Yep, any future with Keanu Reeves in it would be worse….much worse.

    • #14
    • June 11, 2015, at 1:36 AM PST
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  15. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    Vince Guerra:Regarding the problem of sending kids to college, I have a solution: Don’t.

    Or (to quote my favorite Gen-X movie),

    “Eventually you’re going to get smart and learn a couple of things. ..You just dropped a hundred grand on an education you could have gotten for three dollars in late fees at the public library.” from Good Will Hunting

    I’m still waiting for Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season:

    (NSFW language)

    • #15
    • June 11, 2015, at 1:39 AM PST
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  16. Guruforhire Member

    Those of us born in 1980 get all the Gen-X problems and all the Millennial problems too.

    • #16
    • June 11, 2015, at 1:53 AM PST
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  17. DrewInWisconsin, Type Monkey Member

    David Sussman:

    Retirement is coming, and quick.What happens in the next 20 years as we physically slow down?

    What happens if/when we get sick?

    What happens if/when we have another financial crisis?

    Fellow Ricochetti, the answer is simple. The answer is… The answer is…

    Soylent Green!

    • #17
    • June 11, 2015, at 6:37 AM PST
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  18. DrewInWisconsin, Type Monkey Member

    Born in 1965, I refuse to call myself Gen-X. I have always refused this label.

    There’s another, forgotten generation, that slots in between the Boomers and the Xers — my people, who are not Boomers, but not the children of Boomers.

    I’ve heard the term “post-peak Boomers” or “baby busters” describing the generation born between ’58 and ’68, when the post-war baby boom was in steady decline. I find I have far more in common with people born in this period than I do with people born just a few years after me.

    “Gen-X” tries to be a catch-all for too-large a period, but there’s a big difference between those of us who grew up seeing moon launches and images of Vietnam on television and remember Nixon’s resignation . . . , and those who grew up with cable television when MTV actually played music videos.

    So no, I am not Gen-X. I am not a Boomer. I’m part of this small, forgotten generation stuck between ’em. Nobody cares about us, and we return the sentiment.

    • #18
    • June 11, 2015, at 7:02 AM PST
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  19. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    Statistically-speaking, those born between 1965 and 1985 (one of the traditional definitions for Generation X, because (roughly-speaking) the trough in the birthrate began after Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965 and ended with the coming-of-age of the last of the Baby Boomers around 1985) have had it pretty good, overall.

    Because of their smaller numbers compared to the Baby Boomers or the Millenials (also known as the Baby Boom Echo, because they’re the kids of the Baby Boomers), they’ve had less competition for jobs.

    While it’s true that they’ve had to wait longer than past generations for advancement, because the Boomers are taking their sweet time retiring from management jobs, they’ve still had way better job prospects than the more populous generation which follows them. Combine that with low interest rates, and they’ve also had an opportunity to build up a bit of real estate wealth. They were the primary buyers of cheap properties when real estate prices tanked.

    They also had the advantage of way better music during their formative years, since the record industry kinda ignored them due to their lower numbers. That’s why there was a renaissance for independent punk, rock, and alternative genres in the 1990s, while the new millenium brought back the scourge of mindless bubblegum pop as the industry marketed to the Boomers’ kids.

    (Disclosure: I was born in 1975. These are my people.)

    • #19
    • June 11, 2015, at 7:24 AM PST
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  20. Profile Photo Member

    The timing is interesting as I was just having a conversation with my wife and in-laws about how things have changed.

    As a Gen-Xer, my lament to them is simple, imagine being in your peak earning years with a top 28% tax rate, a booming stock market, and an unemployment rate of 5%, oh wait, that economic environment is not available to Gen-Xers . . .

    • #20
    • June 11, 2015, at 7:25 AM PST
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  21. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    Douglas:

    Mike LaRoche:Indeed, we Generation Xers (I’m 40) have much to be apprehensive about. I think the dystopia of Dan Simmons’ Flashback may be closer to our actual future than many think.

    Could be worse. Could be Johnny Mnemonic.

    a) These days, it feels like we’re closer to the future of Demolition Man.

    b) Johnny Mnemonic is an underrated movie, incidentally. All it needed was a bigger budget, even with the same script and the same actors, and it could have rivaled Blade Runner as the seminal cyperpunk movie.

    But then, movies in that era suffered from the same lack of investment that the music industry experienced, for the same reasons. The difference is that lack of corporate investment can be good for musical creativity since it fosters a D.I.Y. ethos.

    That D.I.Y. ethos is also good for comedy, dramatic or even horror film (e.g. Clerks, Sex Lies and Videotape, the Blair Witch Project) but with action movies you really kinda need money to make ’em good.

    • #21
    • June 11, 2015, at 7:41 AM PST
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  22. Profile Photo Member

    On the other hand, I can remember riding a bike without a helmet, walking to school when I was age 6, driving without restrictions at age 16, an 18 year-old drinking age, and a few college professors that entertained conservative (classical liberal) positions. So it wasn’t all bad.

    • #22
    • June 11, 2015, at 7:41 AM PST
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  23. DrewInWisconsin, Type Monkey Member

    Misthiocracy:They also had the advantage of way better music during their formative years, since the record industry kinda ignored them due to their lower numbers.

    This is most certainly true.

    • #23
    • June 11, 2015, at 7:41 AM PST
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  24. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    David Sussman: They were the hardest hit generation during the Great Recession, losing almost half their wealth when the stock market slumped, compared with about 25 percent for baby boomers, according to a 2013 Pew Charitable Trusts survey.

    Yabbut, half of a small pile can still be less than 25% of a big pile.

    Sure my portfolio took a hit in percentage terms, but the elders in my circle lost way more money.

    For me it meant that I could start picking up some undervalued securities at a nice discount, but for the elders in my circle it meant delaying retirement.

    Also consider that some of the biggest political books/ideas of the late 90s/early 00s included Affluenza and Adbusters. When your biggest complaints are that you’re too rich and you have too much choice, you don’t know what real problems are.

    • #24
    • June 11, 2015, at 8:03 AM PST
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  25. Mike Hubbard Member

    I suppose that I’m a charter member of Gen X. Two of my three full time jobs started when expensive long term employees were laid off; I was the cheapo replacement. Loyalty—what’s that?

    It seems to me as though every generation goes through a midlife crisis period. Jonathan Rauch wrote about it for the Atlantic:

    Long ago, when I was 30 and he was 66, the late Donald Richie, the greatest writer I have known, told me: “Midlife crisis begins sometime in your 40s, when you look at your life and think, Is this all? And it ends about 10 years later, when you look at your life again and think, Actually, this is pretty good.” In my 50s, thinking back, his words strike me as exactly right. To no one’s surprise as much as my own, I have begun to feel again the sense of adventure that I recall from my 20s and 30s. I wake up thinking about the day ahead rather than the five decades past. Gratitude has returned.

    I think we in Gen X are going through the collective midlife crisis. I feel prepared, mostly thanks to Dave Ramsey and Financial Peace University. The real fun will come when we can point and laugh at the millennial kids going through it.

    • #25
    • June 11, 2015, at 8:09 AM PST
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  26. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    Mike Hubbard:I think we in Gen X are going through the collective midlife crisis. I feel prepared, mostly thanks to Dave Ramsey and Financial Peace University. The real fun will come when we can point and laugh at the millennial kids going through it.

    I suspect that “GenX Midlife Angst” is a sad attempt by aging GenX writers to be relevant again.

    “Millenials get too much media attention. Remember us? We were cool once too, you know!”

    In my circle of peers, we’re way more optimistic as we hit 40 than we were when we were in our 20s. Back then we didn’t understand much about economics, statistics, and demographics. All we knew is that we were sick of eating so much Ramen.

    Today, we’re just waitin’ for the Boomers to die so we can take over the world. Mwahahahahaha!!!

    The coders in Silicon Valley may be Millenials, but the managers and the money men tend to be GenX. They were the ones reading McLuhen and Postman before it was cool.

    ;-)

    • #26
    • June 11, 2015, at 8:25 AM PST
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  27. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    As a Gen Xer, I note that on the bright side, we’re set to inherit from the wealthiest generation in the history of the world!

    • #27
    • June 11, 2015, at 9:25 AM PST
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  28. Profile Photo Member

    Arizona Patriot:As a Gen Xer, I note that on the bright side, we’re set to inherit from the wealthiest generation in the history of the world!

    Apparently, you haven’t heard of things like reverse mortgages and the ability to take out a loan against your 401k.

    And speaking of your native Arizona, I’m curious to know if Phoenix is even remotely prepared for the day when people don’t have to retire there en masse anymore. Unless we GenXers already have family in Phoenix, it’s rather unlikely we’ll get a home in any of those Sun City or Anthem subdivisions at retirement age.

    • #28
    • June 11, 2015, at 9:35 AM PST
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  29. Dave Sussman Contributor
    Dave Sussman Post author

    The neatest thing about going to main page is all your grammatical errors are cleaned up. Thank RicoAngel!

    • #29
    • June 11, 2015, at 9:59 AM PST
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  30. Dave Sussman Contributor
    Dave Sussman Post author

    DrewInWisconsin:I’ve heard the term “post-peak Boomers” or “baby busters” describing the generation born between ’58 and ’68, when the post-war baby boom was in steady decline. I find I have far more in common with people born in this period than I do with people born just a few years after me.

    “Gen-X” tries to be a catch-all for too-large a period, but there’s a big difference between those of us who grew up seeing moon launches and images of Vietnam on television and remember Nixon’s resignation . . . , and those who grew up with cable television when MTV actually played music videos.

    I’ll go with that! Since rap started in our time, how bout Baby Busta!

    • #30
    • June 11, 2015, at 10:05 AM PST
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