courtesy of Alyssa HaleThe big 3-0: For many people, turning 30 means being solidly in the adult world in a tangible way -- whether that includes getting married or finding a long-term partner, having children, buying a home, or achieving career and financial goals.

But the recession put some speed bumps on many people's career tracks -- or sent them off their tracks altogether -- and today, a large number of early 30-somethings find themselves in a profoundly different position than they'd expected.

For instance, The Wall Street Journal recently pointed out that the Great Recession led to disproportionate unemployment among young people and also affected their long-term incomes. The article cites a Bureau of Labor Statistics study showing that most workers have historically enjoyed the greatest income growth before age 30.

It's a pattern that does not bode well for those turning 30 now.

Patrick EichholdPatrick Eichhold, a freelance designer and entrepreneur in Indianapolis who turned 32 on Sept. 3, says that he feels he has been "'just starting out' for nine years."

"I have not been satisfied with my career or income since the day I graduated college," says Eichhold. He graduated with lofty goals, "but no experience or plan on how exactly I was going to achieve them."

"So naturally, I am far behind where I thought I would be at this age," he says.

Struggling to find work

Alyssa Hale (pictured above) of Boston tells a similar story. After graduating college in 2001, she struggled to find a job. "After a couple years I finally found a sales job for a printing company," she says, "and then 2007-2008 hit."

"I had climbed to $57,000 in annual income," says Hale. "I was 28 years old. As the financial sector crashed, so did the start-ups, and funding disappeared. I was out of work for a year before I just started teaching yoga and looking for work."

"Now, at 31 years old, I make about $55,000 working for a marketing firm," she relates. "I have a house, a child, and a husband bringing in a little more than me, and it's almost impossible to balance our budget if an unexpected expense hits."

Far from Financial Independence

Mark Gerlach works as a career counselor in Niagara Falls, N.Y., but says that, "At 30 years old, the closest I have been to financial independence was one year when my mother paid for my cell phone and loaned me $3,000 for a car."

Gen Xers had an easier time of finding jobs, he contends. "On the older side are people who got degrees in things like Romantic Victorian Children's Literature, and because the economy was generally in a decent state of growth, they got jobs straight out of college," Mark says.

In his view, his own generation did not have the same opportunities. "We got the rhetoric that a degree, any degree, was worth having. Some of us racked up $75,000 or more in debt to get that degree, and our first job out of college paid maybe $10 an hour," Gerlach says.

Worse still, he says, "A lot of my friends lost what little traction they'd gained on the corporate treadmill when they got laid off during the recession. Yes, they are starting back at the beginning."

Crushing Student Debt

Allison and Jim VanNestEven those who are happy with their careers still have financial issues, says Allison VanNest, who works at a start-up in the Bay Area and lives with her husband, an engineer, in East Oakland, Calif.

VanNest says felt mixed emotions when she turned 30 in July 20: "On one hand, I am very proud of my career and income, and this is exactly where I hoped I would be when I envisioned my future in college. However, due to what feels like insurmountable student loan debt, I don't feel like I will ever feel comfortable with my monetary situation."

"My husband attended Berklee College of Music in Boston and has more than $120,000 in student loan debt. I attended Emerson College (B.S.) and Lesley University (M.A.), also in the Boston area, and have more than $80,000 in student loan debt."

"I want to be debt-free and retirement-ready by the age of 50," says VanNest. "But I'm not even sure that I will be finished paying off my student loans by that time ... It's sad that everyone says that higher education is the way to go, but no one tells you how horrible paying off your loans will be. I mean, who signed off to give two 18-year-old kids more than $200,000 in loans that they had no way of paying back? It's crazy."

Facing an uncertain future

Rodric Hurdle-BradfordRodric Hurdle-Bradford, a PR consultant in Scottsdale, Ariz., urges his fellow 30-somethings to accept the new reality. "You have to stay hustling," he argues.

"Our parents had the luxury of knowing they could be with the same company for 20 years," says Hurdle-Bradford. "Nobody goes into a job now thinking they are going to work there for 20 years. Heck, some of my jobs have barely lasted 20 months."

"I had been on unemployment four times from three different states by the time I was 30," he says. "Despite that, every job change has been for the better."

Today, in addition to PR work and running his own Las Vegas valet-service company, Hurdle-Bradford freelances as a magazine writer and bartender. As he puts it, "The future comes faster than you know."

"Most of the people I know are living well below their means and relying on their entrepreneurial skills," he argues. "They're fully aware that the days when Americans lived on credit, and in a false reality, are clearly over."

That goes for 30-somethings and everyone else, he says.

What's your take, DailyFinance reader? Did you or will you achieve your financial and career goals by age 30? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Catherine Baab-Muguira is a contributor to The Motley Fool.

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Elliander Eldridge

I'm 29 years old and live on poverty level income, but I own a beautiful 1880's Victorian House. I have some debts, but they are such that my monthly expenses are still lower than they used to be when I was 18 and renting. Maybe the problem isn't how much people are making, but how much people insist on spending?

Of course I know that Inflation is a growing problem. The rising cost of electricity, gas, water, and food are serious concerns. That's why I invested in organic gardens and have begun producing my own food. That's also why I am making plans for major changes to my property: Enough Solar panels to power my house and driving (electric cars); a geothermal heating system so to cut down on the amount of electric this house would use decreasing the overall costs of intended installation; a 100k gallon rainwater collection system with reverse osmosis purifiers so I can be water independent and be able to keep my garden (which should by then be about an acre in size and supplying all my food needs) fully watered even with ever increasing droughts (because despite the droughts, annual rainfall would be increasing) even if my city imposes water use restrictions and/or future water shortages increase costs; along with improvements to the foundation to allow it to handle the water table changes and have the depth to handle the required systems.

Now, the kind of changes I am planning isn't the kind of thing I can afford with a poverty level income, but here's the thing: I am used to living below my means. I am a full time college student with a 4.0 GPA, in an honors society. My 2 majors are "Biological Sciences: Genetics and Cellular Biology" and "Biochemistry"; My 2 Minors are "Environmental Sciences" and "Forensic Sciences" My expected Salary will be such that if I only allow myself 20k a year to live on (which is twice what I am currently living on) and spend the rest on such projects by the time I am 40 they should be completed. (the extra majors and minors, along with internship plans, are there to ensure I can succeed)

Now, why would I want to spend the bulk of my income to go self sufficient? Because costs are rising all the time and I have no problem living below my means. When it is all done trivial things like inflation and gas prices and water conservation won't affect me in the least. I won't even have to really work anymore except to pay my property tax, Internet, Maintenance, and Sewage Bills which would actually be much MUCH less than my current spending situation.

So you see, with a good plan you don't need to be affected by the push for a higher income. I know I am behind the previous generations by my age, but I am living well enough, so why should I worry?

September 29 2012 at 11:17 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I must protest--Gex X did *not*, N-O-T have an easier time of it. (Except maybe in the area of IT when PC's were becoming commonplace in households.) We had (and still have) a difficult time because your Baby Boomer parents are in the way. ... One big fat bottleneck! And they've ammased such insane personal debt that they'll never retire. Please tell your folks to get out of the way so us (and you!) at least have a chance.

Any Canadian/American Xer can tell you about the early late 80s/early 90s under the Bush/Reagan/Mulrooney administrationswas absolutely brutal! No jobs at all in our late teens and early 20s. And since we didn't have the sort of parents who let us boomerang back into the house, a whole bunch of us were on welfare and visiting food banks. Where do you think all that anger that became Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine stemmed from? Trust me, it sucked!

September 11 2012 at 12:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As we have recently seen, one can be financially on track at 30, 40, 50.... doing everything right and looking good... only to get totally derailed at 55, 58, 60, 65. Something everyone forgets, but my father and others who lived through the Depression and WW2 never forgot.... Man proposes, God disposes. It doesn't matter how much one plans or how on track one is, when the course of history suddenly changes, plans basically go down the toilet... It's why my dad never planned. All you can do is the best you can under the circumstances you're presented with... circumstances change and if one is locked into a plan, one might not be able to change..

September 09 2012 at 4:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Eichhold said he didn't have a plan how to reach his goals when he left college. He must be an idiot. He had no plan and now he's complaining because he's been treading water since college. Boo hoo. I don't feel sorry for him one bit.

September 09 2012 at 3:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Try making it on less than 25.000 dollars a year at age 44. its not easy

September 09 2012 at 2:42 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply


September 09 2012 at 12:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Get used to it. This is ther new america handed to us by our gov't(both parties). Just keep voting the same people in so nothing changes.

September 09 2012 at 12:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

It's a pipe dream all right, especially when you make $10 an hour and collect food stamps.

September 09 2012 at 11:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And to think that the dumbocrats brag about how many people they have put on Welfare, WIC, Food Stamps, etc. etc. How is that something to be happy about? What is wrong with these politicians that they cannot see how wrong this is? If all these people are not working then they are not paying taxes and not buying goods and services which in turn hurts the economy. It just doesn't make sense to me.

September 09 2012 at 11:11 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to dennisde6's comment

They don't brag about putting people on government aid, they brag that they are able to provide it for those who truly need it to get through a tough time. They would love a less than 1% rate of people on welfare, food stamps, etc. The problem isn't the democrats views on the issue of trying to help those in need, it is your biased perceptions making you misunderstand.

September 09 2012 at 7:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

if you and your spouse are bringing in $100 grand collectively like the woman mentioned in this article and you are still having trouble making ends meet, I think it's time to pull your head from your rearends and acknowledge you're living beyond your means in a big way. This sounds more like money mismanagement than anything else. Time to sell that big house, sell the nice vehicles, drop all the gadgets, and buy a home that is smaller and cheaper, a car that is used, and stop wasting money on things you obviously can't afford.

September 09 2012 at 10:31 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to alderaforall's comment

I fully agree. Hale and her husband bring in over $100 grand and they can't make ends meet? What's wrong with them? They must be stupid. They need to get their heads-out and decide what they need not what the want. I don't feel sorry for them one bit.

September 09 2012 at 3:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply