Nearly half of American workers aged under 40 are so saddled with debt that they have nothing left for savings, let alone to put aside for their retirement, and more than a third believe they will be in debt for the rest of their lives.
The gloomy prognosis comes from a poll of 5,000 "Generation X" workers aged 25-40 by financial adviser Charles Schwab.
It found 45 per cent believed themselves to be drowning in debt, while 35 per cent predicted they would be in debt for the rest of their lives and close to half were also deeply worried about their parents' and siblings' finances.
A quarter admitted to barely scraping by from one pay day to the next, with nearly a fifth adopting a "spend now, pay later" approach to life.
A total of 15 per cent – normally the more wealthy – were "confident" or "risk tolerant" while a similar percentage said they had no money but no worries either about the future. Both outnumbered the 14 per cent who described themselves as "cautious savers".
The pay cheque to pay cheque group, who lived on a strict budget and had nothing left for savings, was predominantly female, the research found, and also had the highest level of anxiety toward money.
People within this category also tended to be the most stressed about the direction of their professional and personal lives.
More than three quarters of those with a "spend now, pay later" mentality were male, and were "incurring significant debt" the survey found.
This group tended to be optimistic but also somewhat unrealistic about their financial future, and were confident that Social Security income would be available to them when they retired.
More than two-thirds said they had too much debt to make investment a reality.
Those with a confident and risk-tolerant attitude generally had good reason to be so, as they normally had high incomes and nearly eight out of 10 attributed their success to taking risks.
They were also normally highly involved in their financial future, with three-fourths confident that most of their income would eventually come from investments.
Those with a "No Money, No Worries" attitude were highly optimistic about life even though they were at the bottom of the earnings ladder.
They were typically single, possessed the fewest number of credit cards or were averse to taking financial risks and did not trust financial firms or advisors.
Those with a cautious saver attitude were highly educated, financially conservative and concerned about money even though they were financially secure.
Those with an "overwhelmed but optimistic" attitude were also predominantly women, and, much like the pay cheque to pay cheque group, tended to live on an extremely tight budget with nothing left to put in savings.