(Photo from Flickr user photosteve101 used under Creative Commons license)

By now, it has become popular wisdom that it is getting harder to make it economically in America. Median wages have flattened, rewards for more productive workplaces tend to flow to those at the top, and the essentials of life and upward mobility—education and health care—have increased in price faster than almost anything else.

It would be nice if that were not all true. But a report released Thursday by the Pew Charitable Trusts only adds to the evidence that it is. The report finds that members of Generation X—defined in the study as those born between 1965 and 1980—earn median income of $43,000 a year–significantly more than their parents did at similar ages. But just 36 percent of them have more wealth.


(Pew Charitable Trusts)

The report found that the big culprit here is debt. The median member of Generation X carries nearly six times more debt than their parents did around the same age. Nearly everyone in Generation X reported holding student loan, credit card, medical or other debt. And the median debt burden is $7,000. Their parents, by comparison, held a little over $1,000 in debt at a similar point in their lives.

“The findings show that Gen X has bigger hurdles to overcome than previous generations did to achieve financial security,” said Diana Elliott, research officer for financial security and mobility at Pew.

The report found that economic mobility also is proving to be tougher for Gen Xers than their parents. Of the 30- and 40-somethings born into families at the bottom of the income heap, half are stuck there and nearly three-quarters have not made it to the middle.

Those at the top also tended to stay in place: nearly 7 in 10 now occupying the top income rung in their 30s are from families whose parents were also above the middle income quintile when they were in their 30s. The report also found what others have concluded when it comes to the characteristics of those closer to the top: they are more likely to be married or part of a couple than those at the bottom. They are also more likely to be college-educated.

The report, which used statistical techniques such as inflation adjustment and adjustments in family income to compensate for the size of families to help facilitate comparisons, offers some sobering implications for the children of Gen Xers–who will find it even harder to move up if their parents do not build more wealth.

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