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Is Gen X the Lost Generation?


Most of the big news in our Generations at Work data package is about Baby Boomers and Millennials. The former can’t retire; the latter can’t start their careers. But what about Gen Xers, the erstwhile slackers and marginally employed baristas of every workplace trend article of the ’90s?

gertrude stein 

(Photo Credit: Kathleen Tyler Conklin/Flickr)

Workers born between 1965 and 1981 find themselves in an odd spot, career-wise. With unemployment for all American workers holding steady at over 7 percent, they’re unlikely to feel secure in their jobs, even if they’re more likely to have them than Gen Y workers. Their retirements are woefully underfunded, and the fact that Baby Boomers are forced to stick it out in the workforce means they’re less likely to get promoted than workers of their age in a previous generation.

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Gen X is slightly less likely to be management than Baby Boomers (19.9 percent, compared to 21.7 percent). They’re more likely to be able to work at home than other generations (2.87 percent more common) but less likely to have a defined benefit retirement plan (compared with Boomers, for whom it is 2.78 percent more common). Their median income is medium in size ($55,100 for Gen X, $56,400 for Baby Boomers; $40,700 for Gen Y). Heck, even their complaints are modest: when PayScale asked readers to name their number one gripe about work, Gen X came out ahead in only two areas — commute and schedule — and even then, just by a nose.

In fact, if you take our quiz “Were You Born in the Right Generation?” and come out as Gen X, your description will be an exercise in compromise:

“Like a true child of the 90s, you’re like, totally awesome to work with. In surveys, Gen Xers are considered to be the best leaders and team players — maybe that’s how they managed to turn flannel into high fashion for a hot second. You’ve used these skills to negotiate a flexible schedule; useful if you’re busy raising a family. Nobody is calling you a slacker as you quietly climbing the corporate ladder, but maybe you should take a page from Gen Y and tell the world what a great job you’re doing.”

Team players who are quietly working hard, while raising families and hoping for a flexible schedule — that’s a far cry from a character in Reality Bites. In fact, it looks a lot — gulp! — like middle age.

Maybe it’s not so much that Gen X is a lost generation, but that they’re stuck in the middle. We can hear the Baby Boomers laughing from here.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think Gen X is the lost generation? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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