During the Great Recession, we cashed in my part of our retirement savings to replace a collapsed sewer line. It was either that or live with sewage in our basement. As you can see, the choice easy. The repair cost us $13,000 in savings. That includes the penalties and taxes early withdrawal cost us.
In 2003, we bought the above house in Oklahoma City. It’s in a great location and it’s a great house — a 1919 prairie bungalow with lots of charm and space. It had been listed for $260,000, but the sellers lived in Dallas and were very motivated to sell. We hit a dip in the market and snatched it up for $193,500.
In 2007, we decided to remodel a tiny apartment adjacent to our garage. We refinanced the house and at the time, it appraised for nearly $300,000. I live in Oklahoma City, which was touted as the most recession-proof city in the nation. I never wanted to burst anyone’s bubble, so I never talked about this. But, in 2010, we applied for a home equity loan to fix the sewer and we were turned down for it because the house only appraised for $1,000 more than we paid for it: $194,500. And, because of that re-fi to remodel the apartment, we now owed $230,000. That re-fi, by the way, cost us $12,000 in fees and closing costs.
During the Great Recession, our house appraised for $100,000 less than it appraised for in 2007. That meant we owed $36,000 more on it than it was worth on paper. We were upside down on a historic home that was very expensive to maintain. And, we could not sell it. Absolutely nobody in Oklahoma City wanted to talk about this. The whole time this was going on we were constantly told we were the most recession-proof city in the nation.
Generation X: Save For Retirement
According to a study just released by The Pew Charitable Trust, the Great Recession will haunt Generation X into retirement. There are several key findings highlighted in the news release, including this one:
“All groups experienced wealth losses in the Great Recession, but Gen-Xers took the hardest hit. Both early and late boomers were negatively affected by the recession at a critical point in their lives, losing 28 and 25 percent of their median net worth, respectively. From 2007 to 2010, however, Gen-Xers lost nearly half (45 percent) of their wealth…”
Here are several more:
- Between 1989 and 2007, Gen-Xers accumulated high rates of debt
- In 2010, Gen-Xers had on average $80,000 in debt
- Gen-Xers will not exceed the wealth of previous generations
Gen-Xers have lower asset-to-debt ratios than older generations
- The Silent Generation’s assets are 27 times higher than their debt. Gen-Xers are two times higher
- On average, Gen-Xers lost $33,000 in the Great Recession
- Gen-Xers have lower rates of homeownership than older generations
- The housing bubble and subsequent crash had powerful implications on all generations, but none more than Generation X
- During the two decades before the recession, Gen-Xers had the largest increase of any generation in home equity, but they lost the greatest percentage
- Gen-Xers are the most financially insecure of the five generations in the study
- Gen-Xers will face downward financial mobility in retirement
The birth years for Generation X are 1961 to 1981, but for the sake of the study, Pew broke down the cohorts into smaller groups: Gen-Xers spanned nine years from 1966 to 1975, while Baby Boomers included two groups and spanned 21 years. Early boomers spanned nine years from 1946 to 1955 and late boomers spanned nine years from 1956 to 1965. Half of those “late boomers” are really Gen Xers, and the study shows that they also are on very shaky ground financially.
First World Problems
Many people have crawled out of the Great Recession, but not our house. We had it appraised in 2012, and gratefully it came in around $247,000. We are no longer upside down. But, we’re stuck with a 7.5 percent mortgage because we now can’t meet an 80/20 ratio required to refinance at a lower rate. I have had three bankers convince me that they can help us. So, three times we’ve paid the $500 fee to have our house appraised. We have good credit and a good income, but we can’t refinance. I even wrote my U.S. Congressman and U.S. Senator about this. Neither one of them has responded.
Every time I hear the President talk about universal refinancing I want to throw the remote at the TV. I am cynical. I envision the way this program might play out. Anyone who has less than $35,000 in equity will get universal refinancing. I’ll come in at $36,000.
I remember when I wasn’t a pessimist.
For kicks, let’s just say I don’t miss it by a hair. By the time I’m eligible to refinance, rates will be 5 or 6 percent, not 3 percent, like they are now. It will cost me $10,000 to refinance, eating up more of my equity.
You’ve heard of first-world problems, right? These are the problems of people living in wealthy, industrialized nations. Compared to what people in third-world countries deal with, they mean nothing. Nevertheless, I really just want to escape this insanity. I want to sell this house and buy something super cheap. I have a beautiful home, but it’s holding me hostage. Of course, it’s not the house’s fault. She’s taken very good care of us. And, really, in the end, these are first-world probs and we have only ourselves to blame.
Catching Up With Generation X
During the Great Recession, I’d catch up with my Gen-X friends at coffee shops around Oklahoma City. We’d trade secrets about the impact the miserable economy was having on our lives. This mutuality alleviated our pain and worry. We’d laugh and say we hate you, mortgage company, and we’d stew in our mutual resentment of older generations hanging onto their high-paying jobs. We needed those jobs.
And, we’d stew in our resentment of Generation Y. They hadn’t earned their stripes, but they wanted the jobs we’d been waiting 20 years for. The real burn is that Baby Boomers like them more than they like us. And, Gen Y will do jobs for less because they are either living with their parents or haven’t had kids yet.
Generation X is parenting the majority of kids in this country under 18. When you review all the key findings in light of this statistic, you see that not just Gen-Xers have struggled through the Great Recession, but through proximity, Generation Z.
What is the Great Recession Anyway?
The Great Recession marks the worst financial crisis in American history since the Great Depression. It began in Post 9/11 America in 2001 and began to tip in late 2007 when risky loans and over-inflated assets were exposed. The tipping point came with the fall of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. The Great Recession continues today. It was marked by several key events:
- Huge Pay Cuts
- Massive Job Losses
- High Unemployment
- Collapse of Real Estate Market
- Foreclosures and Bankruptcies
- Rise in homelessness
- Rise in crime rates
- Meltdown of European Markets
- Major share losses
- 50 Percent Decline in Wall Street Stocks
- Bank Closures
- Tightening of lending standards
Global Economy and Recovery
The Great Recession is not over. The global economic news is not good. Economic recovery for Generations X, Y, and Z will be very slow and take many years. By the time Gen-Xers get to recovery, we’ll be standing on the front steps of retirement, entering the room of a new financial crisis. This one, retirement, will be even more personal.
Up and down the boulevards of our cities, we’ll reach catharsis with friends over coffee. Because, really, crying will do no good. And, we won’t stew because we won’t care. We’ll remember the Baby Boomers and War Babies who went before us. They drove us mad, but we’ll miss them. At least some of them. And, we’ll marvel at the greatest irony of all:
From the cohort once called the Generation Ignored came Google and Twitter and dozens of more platforms that made everyone more findable. In doing this, Generation X has secured its place in history and become absolutely impossible to forget.