The youngest generations always seem to get the short end of the economic stick—and poked by it. Millennials have grappled with everything from a tanking post-recession job market to soaring student debt, with Gen Z not far behind them as they emerged from the pandemic in an era of high inflation. It’s a tale as old as time, with the media and older generations consistently blaming the youth’s financial woes on frivolous spending habits; but younger generations are pointing their fingers right back at them.
Most (65%) millennials and Gen Zers are concerned about baby boomers’ influence on their financial future, according to a new survey by OnePoll on behalf of National Debt Relief that polled 2,000 Americans, 500 from each of the four dominant generations. (Well, well, well, how the turns tables.) But many boomers agree—45% believe their generation’s financial decisions will at least somewhat impact the future of younger generations.
Boomers make up a large portion of the population, and therefore have a great impact on past and future programs. Such a large generation is bound to leave a wave rather than a ripple of impact, as an aging workforce and population has outsized effects on everything from the job market to politics. “As they reach retirement age, there is a concern that the strain on government-funded programs like Social Security and Medicare may become unsustainable, potentially leaving younger generations to bear the financial burden of supporting these programs,” Jeff Biesman, chief marketing officer at National Debt Relief, wrote in a statement to Fortune.
Both political parties have questioned the sustainability of Social Security, sparking widespread concern among all generations. Many Americans believe that Social Security will become less fruitful or die out soon, and the youngest cohorts are the most skeptical that they’ll ever see their investments.
Perhaps millennials and Gen Z are so worried about boomers’ impact on the future because they’re already feeling it today. Three-fourths of millennials and 82% of Gen Zers feel as though the current financial straits they’re in are partly due to boomers’ choices, the poll finds.
Boomers have received some flack for leaving millennials with a broken economy. Older generations didn’t have to shell out as much for housing and education, and were able to accumulate wealth more easily. They climbed the ladder and then “pulled it up behind them,” Jill Filipovic, author of “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk,” told Salon in an interview.
The system implemented by older working generations has left millennials and Gen Zers in oversized student debt that impedes wealth building and saving up for retirement. In the housing world, many are simply struggling to afford rent, and those who have finally saved up enough to afford a place are now being outbid by boomers with all-cash offers. “Gen Z and millennials are facing challenges related to rising costs in education, housing, and healthcare,” notes Biesman. “Some attribute these escalating costs, in part, to policy decisions and economic conditions that were influenced by previous generations, including the baby boomers.”
Of course, that’s not to say boomers didn’t have any hardships themselves or that they are entirely at fault for the economic plight younger generations are facing. Millennials and Gen Zers aren’t simply playing the blame game; 71% and 70% respectively admitted in the survey that they’re responsible for their money habits. But boomers have inherited a sweeter deal than their kids, and they now hold more than half the nation’s wealth.
“Boomers have been and still are consuming more than their fair share of the pie. This will leave future generations saddled with substantial debt stemming from expenditures they didn’t benefit from proportionally,” Howard Marks, a billionaire and boomer himself wrote in a 2021 memo to clients, adding that because the generation is so big they have greater political and financial power to advocate for a system that benefits them.
No wonder financial anxiety is elevated for Gen Zers and at a peak state for millennials to the point where they’re feeling depressed. While many do feel financially stable, some only feel that way because they’re dependent on their boomer parents for help. But boomers’ impact on younger generations’ financial futures can be positive—they’re set to provide a $72 trillion Great Wealth Transfer to their offspring, which could benefit millennials in the long run.
But that doesn’t solve the gaps in the system that leave the often derided and debt-ridden generations stuck. As the old saying goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” But it seems as if someone broke millennials’ and Gen Zers’ fishing rod.