Generation X and Debt

One of the most under-discussed domestic issues plaguing the US right now is the ridiculous amount of debt that is being carried by Generation X. The typical X-er college graduate walked away from their education with about $20,000 in student loans and (often) a little more in credit card debt.

The culprits? Parents’ inability to provide significant support during college, skyrocketing higher education costs, and questionable spending habits during the early adult years, a result – of course – of the aggressive marketing machine that is driven by the McCulture.

There are exceptions to be sure, but a large number of thirty-something X-ers are in dire straits – occupying mid-level jobs that offer relatively little pay in relation to the cost of their education, fighting off rising costs of living, and struggling to pay off their student loans and consumer debt.

Forget about the thought that X-ers may some day have to pay for a part of their own children’s education or find a way to support their aging boomer/silent generation parents. And you can certainly forget about retirement savings. Today has enough problems of its own.

Are these circumstances the result of less-than-prudent spending decisions earlier in life? Certainly so, in almost every case. But the boomer seniors of these X-ers, the generation that – by and large – is enjoying the benefits of their lower-wage services in workplaces, who are raking in the interest-laden cash from their student loans and consumer debts, and who are collecting their rent/mortgage/utility/cell phone payments, would do well not to judge too harshly.

Thanks to clever marketing/consumer debt financing strategies from boomer-controlled institutions, implemented over the last twenty years or so, it has now become impossible for much of the next generation to ever “make it” or even “get ahead” in the same way that they did.

There is plenty of blame to spread across both generations, so finger pointing should be kept to a minimum.

Are there political solutions to this situation? Probably not. My guess is that a lot of today’s thirty-somethings are going to take their debt to their grave, forking interest over to financial institutions (and tax dollars into a cash-hungry social security program that benefits their seniors) for the remainder of their productive lives. X-ers, often rugged individualists, probably don’t have the political will (or clout) to do much about their situation.

So again…I’m left wondering: what are the implications of this trend on the way I go/the church goes about ministering to gen-X? Is it enough to offer debt counseling or money management seminars (often taught, I might add, by boomers who appear to have lots of cash lying around – not a great way to establish cred, in my view)? Should there be more of a focus on becoming aware of how the mass culture is trying to take advantage of the Gen-X predicament, and how to avoid the traps that it is laying? Or does the problem cry for the spiritual disciplines of simplicity and self-denial more than it does for for holier-than-thou lectures on financial management? And why, if the problem is ultimately a spiritual one, are churches proffering primarily financial solutions, by financial experts?

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