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Generation Shocked

By Jon Shuman

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Pity Generation X. The poor souls who were born between 1961 and 1981 have witnessed some of the biggest financial shocks in history.

Older Gen Xers, now fully grown with families of their own, were baptized into the world of finance by the savings and loan scandal of the 1980s. Then, after experiencing the rush of the go-go 1990s, when all seemed right with the economy and financial markets, the horror of 911 precipitated another financial crisis. It was a mere prelude to the meltdown of the financial markets and the Great Recession of 2008-’09.

It’s enough to cause anyone to be shell-shocked.  No wonder that many Xers are feeling financially stressed.

The economy and the markets have since found their footing over the past several years.  Nevertheless, 56 percent of Gen Xers report being financially stressed, according to a 2016 financial wellness study by PwC.1 Another study by Scott Trade found that three in 10 of those in the so-called “Middle Generation” (between Millennials and Boomers) attribute their financial stress to concerns about losing their job or having lost their job.2

Meanwhile, 68 percent of Xers worry about supporting themselves if they become disabled or are unable to work, 62 percent are concerned about paying for medical expenses, and 54 percent want to make sure they do not burden others with funeral expenses, according to the 2016 Insurance Barometer Study by LIMRA.3

Mercy.  No wonder why many Xers crave financial stability and security. It’s an opportunity for employers focused on the financial wellness of their employees as well as the agents, brokers and advisors who serve the voluntary benefits marketplace.

Many voluntary benefits such as whole life, disability, critical illness and accident insurance are designed to help enhance the financial security of insureds and their loved ones. They may be suited to those who feel financially insecure.  Like Xers.

Whole Life

The stability and permanency of whole life, for instance, provides financial protection against the premature death of a breadwinner. As long as premiums are paid on time, the policy’s death benefit is guaranteed.

Whole life also offers “living benefits” that can be accessed for a myriad of financial needs – like if someone losses their job or encounters a financial shock. The cash value that grows inside a policy is guaranteed, meaning it increases each year, will never decline due to changes in the financial markets, and offers a reliable source of funds – even during economic downturns.

Disability Insurance

Disabilities from either accidents or illnesses can be a major financial challenge. Approximately 30 percent of people form ages 35-65 will suffer a disability that lasts at least 90 days, according to the Health Insurance Association of America4.  Group disability insurance typically covers between 50 percent and 70 percent of an insured’s salary, relieving the financial stress of losing a paycheck while recovering from a serious injury or illness. Although many employers provide short-term disability coverage, the policies are increasingly being offered on a voluntary or employee-pay-all basis. The coverage is a cornerstone of everyone’s financial foundation.

Critical Illness

Meanwhile, critical illness insurance can provide an injection of additional financial support if someone suffers a heart attack, stroke or dread disease like cancer.  Critical illness coverage provides a lump-sum benefit, paid directly to the employee, to help cover medical costs, mortgage payments, childcare, or even groceries.

Accident Insurance

Another source of financial stress comes from accidents. While most people don’t envision themselves as being treated for an accident, emergency rooms care for more than 40 million injuries a year across the country, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC)5. An injury, especially one that necessitates a visit to a hospital emergency room, can quickly turn into a financial emergency, especially for those who have little or no savings.

Accident insurance typically pays a cash benefit to the insured who may face bills for medical treatment not covered by healthcare insurance deductibles and co-pays. If the injured lacks disability insurance, the cash from an accident policy can even help make up for lost wages if the insured losses time at work while recuperating.

The world is an insecure place as many Xers know all too well. Selling voluntary benefits such as whole life, critical illness, accident and disability insurance can help employers enhance their employees’ financial security.  Doing so can help protect against financial shocks and potentially reduce the stress felt by Xers and other generations alike.


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Jon Shuman is leader of Workplace Distribution for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. (MassMutual).

1Employee Financial Wellness Survey, PwC,

2Gen X: The Worried Generation, Scottrade Research,

32016 Insurance Barometer Study, LIMRA,

4Health Insurance Association of America,

5Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,