A week ago, Holly Whitman wrote a piece asking “Did Baby Boomers Really Ruin Our Futures?” which I thought was a very nicely balanced piece and I wanted to respond, as a late boomer.
I say that I am a late Boomer, because being born in 1960, I am certainly very near the end of the Boomer time period. I was only 10 when the Beatles broke up and Elvis was already washed up before I started listening to the radio. My generation is certainly responsible for some problems, but also, as she pointed out, much was out of our hands.
In terms of what was out of our hands, the circumstances of the Boomer generation created outsized expectations for the “American Dream.” It is true that millions of people during the time of our generation made dramatic economic moves, as I like to say, from dirt farmer to doctor. This dramatic upward mobility was possible because of the unique circumstances of the Great Depression and World War II.
Economic demand was suppressed for 15 years and then exploded, both in amount and technological sophistication. We pretty much literally went from Model-Ts to landing on the Moon in 20 years. So, yes, millions of people could be born on a farm, go to college in the post-war boom and end up employed for life.
So, yes it looked great — from the outside. But we also know that it could not continue like that forever. So, yes, I know many people who went from dirt farmers to doctors, but then what? For example, a friend of mine, his father went from a farm family to being an engineer. My friend is also an engineer. So, where is the upward mobility from there?
And yes, a college degree is no longer a guaranteed ticket to the upper middle class. And yes, it is much more expensive now. But this is a natural result of more people attending college, but the economy doesn’t just magically create jobs that are suited for the people coming in, jobs are created to fill economic needs driven by spending. Fewer, larger companies means fewer engineers.
So, yes, I see that your opportunities look much more limited than those available to your parents and grandparents. But much of that is due to demographics, so please don’t give up hope. Things will come around.
That is not to say that we Boomers have not made mistakes. The biggest mistake we made was to be seduced by “conservative” political philosophy.
We were on the verge of creating a better world. We realized that we needed to clean up our environment. We needed to work towards eliminating racism and war. That real justice included economic justice, with things like a livable minimum wage. And after realizing these things, we turned our backs on them.
We elected Nixon twice and Reagan as well. After pulling the Great Lakes back from the brink of death, we reversed course and once again allowed the corporations to make environmental decisions rather than the majority of people. We never accomplished national healthcare. We stopped fully funding colleges.
In Trump, you can plainly see the problem. We are so caught up in making sure the “have nots” don’t get a piece of our pie that we no longer contribute to the common good. In withholding our support from the common good, many things have gotten worse. The environment, minimum wages, education. Ironically, both the Boomers and Millennials are suffering from this.
Many Boomers have misdiagnosed the problem (with a helping hand from Breitbart and Fox News) and feel that the reason their prospects are not as bright continues to be that the “have nots” continue to drain their resources.
Did China steal our manufacturing jobs? Not really. Manufacturing started to decline in 70’s. Wages have been stagnant since the 70’s as well. Why? Because the upper echelons take more and more out of the economy and reward financial transactions rather making or doing things. This is a huge problem. But most Boomers (and Trump voters) don’t see this. They just cover up the truth with racist tropes and many Boomers continue to fall for it. THAT is the sin of the Boomers.
When Trump promises to “Make America Great Again” he is being disingenuous in a very interesting way. What his followers apparently hear is “make America white again.” As if it was “whiteness” that drove the post-war period. The collective efforts to make our society better, such as unions, Social Security, Medicare, a living minimum wage, are all ignored or run down.
I can assure you that when I defend programs like Obamacare, I get all kinds of comments asking whether I like “being coddled” by the government. That’s how many of my generation have been taught to see it, taking from them to give to (non-white) bums.
But the reality, for me, is this. I work at one of those colleges where you are spending so much and getting less benefit. On average I make $18,000 a year to teach your classes. I get no benefits from my college — which is publicly funded. My degree may have cost me less, but it has not been a ticket to financial comfort either.
I, like many other Boomers am suffering for the bad political choices of my generation, which have amounted to: “I got mine, fuck you.”
You Millennials can still save us and yourselves. Individual effort is certainly good, and should be rewarded, but collective action is also necessary to smooth out the complexities and uncertainties of modern life. Diversity is a good thing. Economic concentration is not a virtue. You understand these things.
But you need to vote. In this election and every election. You have to vote intelligently and often. I find it amazing that Obama has a majority (50+ percent approval rating) and Hillary will probably just barely squeeze out a victory and Congress has a 17% approval rating and over 95% of the incumbents there will win re-election. How is that even possible?
Boomer voting. Combined with gerrymandering. If this continues, you will continue to see erosions on the kinds of programs that helped Boomers get started and get through the hard times. You won’t get any help. As I am sure you have noticed. This will continue even if Hillary is elected. The erosion will become a complete collapse if Trump is elected.
So, you have to vote and not just for President. Every office, every race. Bernie was step in the right direction. Not everyone will have all the same positions, but you can keep moving in the right direction. Hillary is a step in the right direction. So is Tim Kaine. Roy Cooper in NC is step in the right direction. Russ Feingold is a huge step in the right direction here in Wisconsin.
Millennials are rapidly becoming the biggest voting bloc in the country. Don’t make the same mistakes as the Boomers. Don’t vote for bigotry and economic concentration. Vote for diversity, collective action and most of all, the real future and not some imagined past.
I guarantee you that if you start voting, voting in every election with both your head and your heart that the political process will start working for you.
And Boomers like me will appreciate you saving us from ourselves.