A new study paints a bleak picture of the financial situations of Gen Xers and baby boomers in Erie County.
An AARP New York-Siena College telephone survey found that both groups of Erie County residents are struggling to afford basic necessities, feel unprepared for retirement and worry about having enough money to retire.
The survey questioned 611 Erie County residents age 36 to 70. Those belonging to the so-called Generation X were born from 1965 to 1980. Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964.
The survey results in the report, "Countdown: New York's Vanishing Middle Class," revealed more than half of Gen Xers and boomers said paying for basic needs such as food, housing and utilities has a serious impact on their finances. Health insurance and medical costs also caused financial distress to more than 60 percent of middle-class Gen Xers.
Boomers are largely unprepared for retirement and Gen Xers even less prepared, according to the report. Fewer than half of the survey respondents have researched Social Security benefits. A whopping 80 percent of middle-class Gen Xers have not researched medicare benefits compared to 61 percent of baby boomers. The overwhelming majority of both groups haven't written out a retirement plan or budget, while more than 60 percent have no plan if they become sick or disabled. A third of respondents have not discussed retirement with their family at all.
Perhaps not surprisingly, 63 percent of those surveyed said they often worry about having enough money to maintain their current standard of living once they retire. Just 20 percent of respondents are prepared to pay the estimated $476 per couple out-of-pocket healthcare costs in retirement. Roughly three-quarters of boomers and Gen Xers would be unprepared to pay $50,000 per year for long-term care expenses, let alone the $52,620 annual cost for a home health aide or the $115,000 annual cost of a nursing home in Erie County, according to the report.
Amy Jo Lauber, a certified financial planner, author and owner of Lauber Financial Planning, said she's not surprised to hear such dismal survey results.
"I've been doing this long enough to know that most people feel insecure when it comes to money," she said.
But she cautioned the report's negative tone could have the opposite of its intended effect of spurring people to get their finances in shape.
"People tend to get paralyzed by their fear and lack of knowledge and do nothing intentional about their finances," she said.
Financial decisions require time, thought, energy and risk, Lauber said. People don't know where to start or who to trust and there are too many variables not under their control. It's so overwhelming, she said, many people check out of the process entirely.
But it is possible to take control and make positive changes, Lauber said.
Changing people's financial behavior starts with encouraging them to be honest about what the good life means to them -- what their needs and priorities are and how other people affect or influence their financial choices, according to Lauber. Only then will they believe they can succeed and become motivated to do something, no matter how small, to start changing the trajectory of their financial lives.