SALT LAKE CITY — Turbulent markets and paying off debt add up to a less than secure retirement for Americans who fall into the "Generation X" category.
A recent study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute showed 57 percent of U.S. workers report less than $25,000 in total household savings and investments, excluding their homes.
The study also showed 57 percent of Americans are actively saving for retirement, which is down from 65 percent in 2009. And 28 percent said they have no confidence they'll be able to retire comfortably, which is up from 23 percent last year.
Much of that trend is among the younger generation, and financial experts said 401(k) investments tell the story.
"We see a lot of the younger generation being more conservative in their investments than the older generation," said Lee Johnson, financial adviser at Raymond James Financial Services.
Reason #1: Turbulent investment markets
Johnson said in a perfect world, one would expect younger workers to more aggressively allocate funds in investments as opposed to older employees.
They say 'I don't want to lose money. I don't care if I don't make anything, I just don't want to lose.'
But that's not what Johnson is seeing as he works with clients. He said one reason is the markets have been turbulent for several years.
Johnson said the U.S. has experienced two of the biggest bear markets since the Great Depression, and that has younger investors running scared.
"The younger investor seems to be kind of scared because all they've ever known, at least in the past 13 years, are markets that have been pretty turbulent," said Johnson.
This turbulence adds to investor insecurity and misconceptions about how the markets usually work, he said.
"With everything that's been going on they say, 'I don't want to lose money. I don't care if I don't make anything, I just don't want to lose money,' " said Johnson.
Reason #2: Paying off debt
- 55% of workers and 39% of retirees report having a problem with their level of debt
- 50% of workers and 52% of retirees say they could definitely come up with $2,000 if an unexpected need arose within the next month
Instead of investing in the stock market or putting money in the bank, Johnson said Gen Xers are paying off debt.
"People have been paying down credit cards, paying down their mortgages and paying off cars," he said.
Johnson also said Gen Xers are not interested in investing in stocks, real estate or anything that doesn't guarantee a return on investment.
"They've been investing with the rear view in mind and emotionally," said Johnson.
Reason #3: 401(k) matches disappearing
Johnson said many companies have suspended 401(k) matching.
"So they're not giving employees the incentive to put away some of their own money," said Johnson. "We see a big drop in savings when that happens."
Johnson also said it's tougher for the younger generation to save for retirement, especially when they don't have the same kind of disposable income as the older generation.
"Obviously in your late 20s and early 30s your career is just beginning," said Johnson. "You're starting a family. You've got the mortgage payment."