Many years ago, I was talking to my father about money and retirement, and he asked me “when will you be vested?” I looked at him as if he had three heads and said “vested in what?” Then it was his turn to look at me as though I had three heads. When he retired in the late 80’s he had a full pension, and, to this day, has health insurance as part of that pension. He had no idea that these things are almost nonexistent nowadays. We also talked about wages, and I surpassed his highest annual wages when I was in my 30’s; but that’s in raw dollars! Once adjust for inflation, I have never come close to his wages, and I never will unless my boss gives me a 60% raise.
My father had a better life than his parents, and his parents were better off than his grandparents, and so on. But my generation is the first one to go the other direction, and with every passing year it is increasingly clear that the downward slide will likely continue. Understandably, younger generations are upset about this: #okboomer, for example:
Boomers as a class are guilty of; generational terrorism, insolvent social security and medicare nets, lower life expectancies, and psychopathic tribalism. All as result of their self-entitled narcissism as group. Look who they elect to represent them.
It often does feel like earlier generations have “pulled the ladder up behind them”: They have social security, pensions, and medical care, but it does not seem clear that any of that will be there in the coming decades. However, I am not sure this is “generational terrorism”. Here is how I think about it: my generation went looking for the American Dream, and walked in to find her murdered, with the boomers standing next to the corpse. Was it murder? Manslaughter? Was he an unwitting accomplice? Or was it just coincidence? It’s hard to say; it probably depends on which boomer you talk to.
Regardless of blame, it is clear that my parents’ generation had opportunities that I will never have (unions, pensions, cheap housing, plentiful jobs) and there are opportunities which I had that my children will never have (social security?, affordable college, steady jobs). There is plenty here to feel resentment about, but we need to actually understand the problem and develop actual solutions rather than name-calling. I just recently found the book The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown which will, hopefully, provide some answers here.
But one factor that I think is often overlooked is the pervasive impact of oil prices/availability; I feel that everyone should read The Geography of Nowhere and The Long Emergency for the full story. My parents lived out their adult lives in the boom years of cheap oil, and in those years we restructured our civilization around the automobile as though the oil would always be that cheap. My father could easily drive 25 miles to work because the oil was cheap and the highways were never crowded (coincidentally, he spent his career in the asphalt business, helping to pave all the new roadways). But now we find that we are lucky to find affordable housing within 25 miles of work, and the roads are often choked with traffic. Our children cannot walk anywhere since nobody thought to build sidewalks or have any amenities within walking distance, so, on top of everything else, we end up being a taxi service for our children. We are trapped in a prison of our own making, squeezed between an unsustainable living arrangement and inexorably rising oil prices.
But, all in all, this “ok boomer” is another shot in the ongoing battle going on between Boomers and Millennials (“snowflake” was one of the epithets being hurled the other direction). Meanwhile, my generation sits in the middle, ignored, as usual. For example, Gen X was left out of a list of generations, but someone explained why this was:
Gen X was apparently out of the building during roll call, probably too busy taking care of an elderly parent while sending an Uber to an unemployed millennial child and arguing with a post-millenial about why the WiFi is so slow. #GenX
That hits pretty close, though my millennial child is under-employed and has his own car, but my post-millennial child will complain about the WiFi. But don’t we all?