To be born a Baby Boomer has meant that -- from elementary school to retirement parties -- everything has been crowded in a messy, but hopeful way. We’ve had healthy self-esteem because all our lives we’ve been important to everyone from politicians to advertisers. Now that those retirement parties are reaching 10,000 per day, however, some folks are not so happy to have us around.
It pains me to have young people complaining about selfish Boomers. The complaint is fair in some ways and unfair in others. Most programs that are now insolvent were started by our parents’ generation and have more or less worked for them, because there were so many of us working to pay the bill. Boomers, however, had far fewer children. I’ve heard Boomer friends say that they would have had more children but for talk of overpopulation in their youth; or that their reproductive lives took a hit when divorce became fashionable in the wake of the sexual revolution. In general, however, birth rates plummet as the standard of living rises -- which is to say that Boomers are not more or less selfish than other generations, but that our place in history has resulted in fewer births and a subsequent generational squeeze.
It is becoming clearer and clearer that the nation can’t afford the entitlements promised to Boomers. We are caught between a rock and a hard place, however, because -- though the economic collapse and endless QEs have decimated our savings and retirement accounts and made pensions increasingly impossible to pay -- our plans to work longer to recoup these losses earn us resentment from young people desperate for jobs. We actually sympathize more than they know—many of us attempted to enter the workforce in the Carter years and experienced the same bleak conditions. And, of course, many of these young people searching for work are our beloved children.
My economist son, still young and idealistic, is disgusted with both parties this election because they can’t tell the truth about entitlements to Boomers, who vote in high numbers. There is some truth in this charge, but I contend that everyone understands that during elections it is necessary to heed Emily Dickinson’s admonition to “tell the truth, but tell it slant.” In other words, you have to get elected before you can fix anything.
Most Boomers know that the resources aren’t there to keep all the promises made to them, but at the same time have planned their lives around those promises and, of course, paid into the system. The Democrats aren’t dealing with these realities in any way, but the Romney/Ryan ticket is promising to keep entitlements the same for those over 55 (except for wealthier seniors). With the increase in longevity since entitlements were introduced, even these promises are looking decidedly iffy. People get understandably frightened when they face an old age of poverty and ill-health; but, on the other hand, most of us are very concerned for the plight of young people with large student loans and few job prospects.
So I’d like to ask Ricochet readers—what are the solutions to these problems? How can we avoid generational warfare? I like to think that after the election—which, God willing, will give us President Romney and budget whiz Veep Ryan—the talk will need to be about jobs, jobs, jobs ... but also about working together to pay down the debt and balance the budget. My husband and I are fortunate enough to be among the wealthier Boomers, and are willing to pay more taxes—by sacrificing deductions under the Romney plan—toward fixing the fiscal mess. But we are not willing to pay more taxes for Obama to squander.
I think we are going to need to revive the old idea of sacrifice in the service of our country; and I believe most Boomers will respond with enthusiasm once politicians start addressing the serious fiscal problems instead of digging a deeper hole. But Boomers were born in the surge of post-World War II optimism, which we have carried with us all our lives. Is my optimism warranted?