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Generation gap no laughing matter

ageism

By Sondra Shapiro

The “generation gap” was a term popularized in the ’60s to describe the divide between Baby Boomers and their parents. We Boomers were rebels, politically and socially, much to the chagrin of our parents’ generation.

The rabble-rouser moniker has stuck with us throughout the decades. As we enter old age, we 76 million are still redefining the status quo. We are also becoming our parents, in many ways. And, like our parents before us, we are finding ourselves on one side of a new generation gap with the younger generation of Millennials (those born between 1982 and 1997), an 80 million-member powerhouse that is reshaping the political and social landscape.

This gap was brought to my attention while getting my daily dose of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. I was half asleep when Stewart’s guest, Paul Taylor, who oversees demographic, social and generational research at Pew Research Center, said, “(We) Boomers made a lot of noise in our 20s and now we have gotten more conservative.” That my liberal, devil-may-care generation is becoming conservative was enough to capture my interest. Now that I was fully awake, things got more interesting.

sshapiro_headshotTaylor was promoting his new book, The Next America, which examines the different generations and the country’s changing demographics. As Stewart introduced Taylor, he used the word “showdown,” to describe the relationship between Boomers and Millennials. But since comedy is the Daily Show’s bailiwick, Taylor jokingly followed by saying, “It’s hard to wage a generation war from their childhood bedroom.” They like mom and dad and “have gone from being kids to roommates,” Taylor said. So, what about this showdown?

My head was spinning after the interview. I just kept thinking about that word “showdown.” So, after a long sleepless night, I ran out and bought a copy of Taylor’s book, which I found delves into where our nation is headed as the influence of the boomer generation begins to take a back seat to the next generation. Taylor contends the future holds a dramatic social, racial and economic shift.

Filled with meticulous research, the message should serve as a warning to current and future political leaders. The status quo will doom us.

The book describes and contrasts the differences among the four main generational groups: The Silents, Boomers, GenXers and Millennials. But the takeaway was the relationship between Millennials and Boomers.

There are many differences between my cohort and this younger group. While we couldn’t wait to flee the nest, Millennials are staying put, mostly because they can’t find jobs. They are delaying marriage and children because they don’t have the means to provide for a family. Promos for Taylor’s book warn that 20-somethings are at risk of becoming the first generation in American history to have a lower standard of living than their parents do.

Because Millennials are experiencing a stunted adulthood, the rumblings among them are low. They are not yet thinking about the future and their retirement security. According to Taylor, the Great Recession has also banded the generations together.

“What’s so fascinating is there isn’t any tension at the moment,” he said during the NPR interview. “You have a generation coming in that isn’t wagging its finger with blame at mom or grandma; in fact, they’re living with mom and grandma. … There’s a lot of generational interdependence …”

Now the word “showdown” began to make sense. Though it has been delayed, it could happen.

Consider:

•Social Security, a pay-as-you-go system, has today’s workers paying for current retirees. When Social Security began, there were 42 workers per retiree. By the time my entire cohort is dipping into the program, around 2035, there will be two workers per retiree.

•Medicare’s trust fund insolvency is slated for 2033 if nothing is done to fix it.

“The math of those programs does not work,” Taylor said during a National Public Radio (NPR) interview. “Everybody who looks at the demographics knows that those systems are going broke within 15 or 20 years and the longer you wait, the more the burden of the solution is going to fall on the Millennials.”

This burden will likely create animosity toward the Boomer generation, only to be exacerbated by my generation’s proclivity to spend and not save, thereby placing more responsibility on taxpayers to help support us.

The national debt continues to rise largely because of the behavior of our generation and the leaders we have spawned who aren’t smart or courageous enough to find workable solutions. Social Security and Medicare together accounted for 38 percent of federal expenditures in fiscal year 2012, according to federal government statistics.

I recall a comment made to me years ago by a Concord Coalition head: “The only way things would get done is if both parties held hands and jumped off the cliff together. No one wants to be the first to put forth the details. It’s self-preservation.”

Millennials tend to be very liberal. Taylor credits them for delivering the election and re-election of President Obama. Yet, that support has eroded lately. “They are now about a 15 or 16 percent of the electorate. By 2030, they will be about 30 percent of the electorate. So the simple demographic churn assures that they will become very important. Woe be it to the politician who doesn’t understand who they are and doesn’t understand their dreams and aspirations and fears. At the moment, it’s hard to find it in Washington.”

Taylor, the astute statistician, said during the NPR interview, “We’ve got to rebalance the social safety net so it’s fair to all generations; the numbers just don’t work going forward. That cries out for political leadership.”

During my early years as a reporter, I covered issues pertaining to the parents and grandparents of Boomers. A re-occurring message was that they wanted to leave the world a better place for their children and grandchildren. The programs that came from that generation and its leaders mirrored that sentiment.

If I could talk to those people today, I know their first concern would be to protect the youth of this country.

Yes, we have allowed our children to move back home during tough times. Perhaps we have coddled them a bit too much, contributing to their stunted maturation. It seems, though, that there is a disconnect with the love we feel for our children and grandchildren and the bad behavior we and our political leaders are engaging in that could financially help to bankrupt them.

The impending showdown can be nipped in the bud. If the generations could work together to preserve the benefits that previous generations have, Millennials would have a chance to enjoy the same career, family and government benefits that we have enjoyed.

Then, the only “generation gap” we would need to concern ourselves with is our children’s choices in music, clothes and other cultural and social behaviors.

Sondra Shapiro is the publisher of Fifty Plus Life. She can be reached at sshapiro@thefiftypluslife.com. Read more at thefiftypluslife.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/shapiro50plus.

One Response to “Generation gap no laughing matter”

  1. EXCELLENT article…very thought provoking.

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