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THE SANDWICH GENERATION is what pessimists call middle-aged baby boomers. To their way of thinking, the sandwichers are caught in a vicious, unprecedented financial squeeze, paying astronomical bills. Aging boomers are forking out huge sums to provide for their childrens' college education while also supporting their frail, aged parents. No wonder boomers find it impossible to save.

IN REALITY, the plight of the Sandwich Generation is overblown, according to the Census Bureau. The vast majority of boomer families don't have college-age children, much less dependents in college. In 1989, some 16% mf families had at least one child aged 18 to 24--and of these families, only 39% had at least one child attending college. Similarly, only a small number of the middle-aged have a parent over 80, says the bureau. True, the burden on some of the middle-aged is greater than in 1950, when young people were far less likely to go to college and the old didn't live as long.EDITED BY LARRY LIGHT AND JULIE TILSNER By Christopher Farrell

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