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Worrying about ‘new normal’

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Monday, October 22, 2012
Posted: 5 pm ET

My parents didn't worry about supporting me once I turned 18 and graduated from high school. I worked part time in a union print shop and made enough money to pay the $82-a-quarter tuition at Ohio State University. I shared a house where my rent was $50 a month. I bought a beat-up Ford Fairlane for $100 that gulped 25 cents a gallon of gasoline. When I graduated, my dad found me a great deal on the used yellow Mustang I coveted. I drove it to Florida to take a job at a newspaper where they had hired me sight unseen on the recommendation of a professor at the school of journalism.

The future looked a lot clearer then than it has for my children and others who are starting out in today's challenging times. Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management surveyed people older than 18 with more than $250,000 in savings available for investment. Among this relatively affluent group, 44 percent said they believed today's economic uncertainty won't disappear soon and is "the new normal," as Merrill Lynch dubs it. Not surprisingly, many clearly have feelings of economic unease.

  • Seventy-seven percent put paying for health care at the top of their list of concerns with that number rising to 83 percent among people older than 65 who are facing retirement.
  • Fifty-four percent worry about meeting their financial goals.
  • Fifty percent are concerned about unemployment.
  • Forty-two percent find retirement planning worrisome and think they may not have enough to sustain their lifestyle in retirement.

Circling back to where I started, 27 percent of these relatively affluent people say they are supporting an adult child or parent. Among those supporting their adult children, 48 percent say they are willing to continue to do so as long as they need help.

But that situation might not last forever. When Merrill did this survey in 2011, 48 percent paid for or planned to pay for the full cost of their children's college education. In 2012, that dropped 10 percentage points to 38 percent. Has the cost of college risen so far that parents simply can't scrape together the money -- or are parents waking up one day and telling their kids to get a job -- and life?

Will financial independence -- even when it's uncomfortable -- become a hallmark of the "new normal?" And is that good or bad?

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