The midlife economic anxiety crisis
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We’ve been digging into more of the results from our Marketplace-Edison Research Poll.
We surveyed 1,000 people, and then took a look at who was the most anxious – the people who scored highest on the Marketplace Economic Anxiety Index.
In our survey we asked people questions like, are you afraid you’ll lose your job? How much do you fear not having enough money for retirement, or not being able to afford college for your children? Then the big picture question – how often are you anxious about your financial situation?
If you look at the most anxious people in our poll – the top 100 in our Marketplace Economic Anxiety Index – they have a lot in common, said Larry Rosin, president of Edison Research. A majority are 35- to 54-year-olds.
“Thirty-five to 54 is when people often have children that they’re providing for,” said Rosin.
Sometimes they’re also supporting their parents.
“And they have this looming cliff of impending retirement sort of out there,” Rosin added.
No wonder they’re anxious.
Take 53-year-old Ira Baron. He took our survey. And while he isn’t in the top 100, he’s facing many of those challenges.
He lives near Annapolis, Maryland, with his wife, Sharon Simon, and two kids. He agreed to sit down and chat about his answers to our poll.
We head into his cozy family room, and sit down in front of a crackling fire. Ira talks about what it’s like to be in the most worried group of our poll respondents — the 35 to 54-year- olds. He says it’s as if he’s on a plane with his family. Behind him are clear skies. But he’s looking out the window now, “and recognizing, for the first time, that there’s, sort of a cloudy ceiling.” he said. “I can’t see the sun right now.”
Ira’s got a good job. He’s a senior IT executive. He doesn’t have to worry about his parents or Sharon’s.
But he does have children to provide for: a 12-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter, who’s just starting to think about where she wants to go to college.
“I don’t know what college is going to be like,” Ira said. “I don’t know what it’s going to cost. So, it’s cloudy. I can’t see through it.”
Then there’s retirement.
“I don’t know what retirement looks like because I haven’t really thought about it yet,” he said. “So it’s cloudy.”
So it’s a double layer of clouds, because like many of our 35- to 54-year-olds, Ira is having to plan for college tuition and retirement at the same time. His wife, Sharon walks in.
“We don’t have a breather in between the two,” she said. “They’re smack dab on top of each other.”
Ira wants to be able to pay for at least part of his kids’ college tuition. But, back to our plane analogy, he has to put his oxygen mask on first; Ira won’t use his retirement for tuition,which, for two kids, can be more expensive than buying a house.
And speaking of housing, Ira said they weren’t hit by the housing crisis. But it did get his attention.
“While it was a foregone conclusion to me before that you buy a decent house in a nice neighborhood and you’re going to get out ahead, there’s no longer that guarantee, so part of our economic projection I see being at risk in ways that I had not before the recession,” he said.
Ira said they were hit hard by the stock market crash. And he’s still trying to repair the damage to his retirement account.
But here’s the thing: He’s not paralyzed with worry. As I’m leaving, he and Sharon actually thank me for making them think about all these things.
And Ira said he will eventually see the sun out of the plane window again.
“It’s that cloud cover we have to get through, right?” he said. “Once we’re out I think we’ll be fine. All of us.”
Ira said it’s actually a luxury to be able to plan, to have money to set aside, for a future without turbulence.
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