Meet a boomer who unretired to help her Gen Z kids get through college and find stability: 'They're terrified'

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Meet a boomer who unretired to help her Gen Z kids get through college and find stability: 'They're terrified'
Jane (not pictured) had to go back to work to support herself and her kids.FG Trade/Getty Images
  • Jane, a 63-year-old Texan, has returned to work after retiring.
  • Her decision was driven by rising living costs and her children's economic struggles.
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Jane, a 63-year-old single parent in Texas, retired about a year and a half ago.

For a while, she did some part-time work to make a little money, but she just returned to full-time work. She told Business Insider she's coming up against a multi-generational financial strain and needs more of a buffer.

Jane thought she had her post-working finances all figured out. Instead, she was "risking running out of money before I died."

That's partially because she hadn't originally budgeted for supporting her 20-something children during her retirement years. Jane had assumed that they'd be grown-ups making their own way; instead, like other young adults across the country, they're struggling to stay afloat without her assistance as they go to college. Her daughter has cycled through service jobs, and her son lives with her.

Like many other parents, Jane said she sees her adult children stuck in an economic predicament that isn't of their own making. Going back to work, she isn't just saving for retirement — she's also saving for an inheritance.

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"They're terrified. They're like, 'Mom, we're never going to be able to buy a house. I'm going to have a huge car payment the next time I have to buy a car. We're never going to get there. We're never going to dig our way out,'" she said. "It concerns me too. I see that. I see the potential for that happening."

Jane — whose full name and profession are known to Business Insider but withheld over privacy concerns — isn't alone. Most young adults ages 18 to 34 aren't completely financially independent from their parents, according to Pew Research Center surveys conducted from October to November 2023.

And it's not that younger Americans are working less or forgoing education. Compared to their counterparts 30 years ago, today's young people are "much more likely" to be college graduates, according to Pew. And they're also more likely to work full-time. Even so, 57% are living with their parents, up from 53% in 1993.

As younger workers struggle to afford homes or find higher-paying jobs in a labor market that's been shedding traditionally well-paid white-collar work, it's also impacting parents who are already coming up against increasingly bleak retirement prospects. Both Gen Zers and millennials say they'll need six-figure salaries to feel like they've "made it" or to be happy, and over half of both groups have reported living paycheck to paycheck. That's making both difficult retirements and an unequal economy into a multi-generational problem.

"Home prices and rent prices and automobile prices — I don't think that they're aligned with wages in a fair, or in a reasonable, way," Jane said.

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The baby boomer divide and a new way of working

Jane pointed to a boomer divide: While older boomers might be thriving — and data shows that some are, at least — it's a different story for the younger cohort. Younger boomers like herself don't tend to have pensions, as Jane noted, and instead were relegated to saving in 401ks — for Jane, that meant a tighter limit on how much she could invest in retirement at the beginning.

At the same time, "many people are waiting later in life to have children, so they may be trying to retire and send their kids to college at the same time. And I know friends of mine that are my age, and they're still paying off their own student loans," she said.

For now, Jane thinks she won't be able to fully retire again for at least four years. She wants to get her kids through college and see if they're able to find jobs that are decently paid. When she initially stopped working, she had been "terribly burnt out" and was getting worn down by stress and constant hustling. Going back to work, she is encountering some exciting new norms — even though her new role is a big pay cut from what she had been making before. She's able to work from home on Mondays and Fridays now and arrive in the office at 9 or 9:30 a.m.

"Most of the people that I work with are in their 30s, and so they have a different expectation of what work looks like. And it's very refreshing to me, and I feel like it's something that I can live with. So if I enjoy it, who knows, I might work longer," she said.

But that doesn't mean she's immune to the Sunday scaries: "On those Sunday nights and Monday mornings, I really, really regret it. I'm like, 'Oh my God, why am I doing this?'"

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In the long run, Jane hopes that there are some solutions to the affordability and economic problems her children are facing.

"I'm hopeful for that, but I'm really not really expecting it," she said. "I'm really expecting the landscape of the economy for this generation that my children are in to be dismal."

Are you a boomer struggling to retire or supporting kids throughout your retirement? Contact this reporter at jkaplan@businessinsider.com.

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