“No country for young men”

An interesting story in this month’s Atlantic with an upstate N.Y. setting (specifically, Newark in Wayne County). The author argues that, as America’s Baby Boomers age, they can look forward to a modest but happy old age much easier than their parents and grandparents faced, and that Americans should not be terrified of such a future, since Newark is (in her view) gently decaying but pleasant.

Well, that’s great for Boomers… but what about my generation, which is expected to take care of them? (The article notes that 50 years ago, there were 42 workers for every one retiree; soon, there will be only 2-3 workers for every retiree.) I don’t ask this question peevishly: I guess I’ve pretty much accepted that one’s generational lot in life could be to look after one’s more numerous elders and that any future-oriented personal productivity will be purely lucky or accidental. However, my generation – I don’t know what they call it now (I never understood what was meant by Generation X) – still has an existence to eke out, despite being apparently destined to be caretakers for a much larger, older group. (Maybe we’ll be the Greatest Generation that Tom Brokaw Never Noticed?)

I’m not too sure I could be as content as this author with a future made largely of Wegmans artisanal cheese and a lot of Boomers sitting around telling stories about the past, but that’s what walks in the woods are for. (And fortunately, our region has some of the most beautiful woods in the country.) There’s still a world out there which an older generation of Americans may never know anything about.

7 thoughts on ““No country for young men”

  1. Mrs. Mecomber

    I still say we should have a litmus test for Boomers desiring to retire with Social Security:

    “Did you or have you ever been in favor of abortion?”

    They killed off over 35 million of our generation, Ellen. THAT’s where all those workers are– in the incinerators.

  2. Ellen

    While I think the abortion rate was high for our generation I think the worker situation probably has more to do with other economic trends.

  3. Phil

    Gen X’ers don’t have to worry. The Boomer Echo (kids of boomers) will be chipping in for your Social Secuity & Medicare. The Echo kids are our nation’s second largest generational cohort.

    I loved the Boomer sniping in the article by the author when she marveled at the new TV dating show aimed at Boomers exclusively, that Boomers ability to think solely about ourselves has been undiminished by age!

  4. Mrs. Mecomber

    What economic trends would reduce people, especially at such a rate as 42:1 to 2.5:1? Wow, that’s quite an economic trend! I think it’s more about demographics, due entirely to population reduction.

  5. Phil

    Yeah, the ratio change is a demographic one–but not the one you think. The ratio you refer to is number of workers to retirees. Our population EXPLODED post WW2. Our workforce also exploded after WW2. Women left the house and African Americans left the fields–both entering the realm of wage earners kicking in their FICA payments, entitled to retirement pay.

    It wasn’t hard to meet the retirement obligations of retirees from the Depression era and pre-WW2. Low birth rates and low workforce participation.

    The retirement needs of Gen X and later will be slightly easier to meet, but still the ratio of workers to retirees will always be lower than when the nascent Social Security program was conceived. More people kick in, more will be entitled to take out. No one will be eligible to take more than Boomers.

  6. Mrs. Mecomber

    Hey Phil, the demographic change is exactly as I described. How else would 35 million people be missing from the tax rolls and SS labor force? It’s not like these people DIDN’T exist– they DID exist, that’s why we have the numbers– the numbers prove their existence (and demise). We DID have the population to support the SS system for Boomers. It’s just that the Boomers killed their own kids, not to mention their own income source for retirement.

    See, you are playing zero-sum game, but you are failing to take into account the aborted “future workers” of our generation; in actuality, there’s a negative-balance on the “future workers” side. That’s the main difference.

  7. Phil

    I don’t understand your point. Our nation’s population has continued to increase substantially, the Boomer Echo (children of Baby Boomers) is the second largest generational cohort in our nation’s history.

    The reason that there is so much of a difference between the ratios is not because the Boomer progeny have a lower birthrate than the post WW2 parents, but because there were so many fewer Depression era people–with among the lowest birthrates and workforce participation–in our nation’s history.

    You are making a political argument, not a demographic argument. Abortions have had a marginal effect on Boomer birthrates. Boomers didn’t have as many kids per capita as the folks celebrating the end of WW2 and the Depression–but no one in our history had as many kids. Boomers came close–abortion had an impact, but so did increased use of contraception, more couples putting off childbirth till later in life and the fact that a developed commercial society always sees a decline in childbirth rates.

    Besides, the whole argument is whether we can continue to provide Social Security benefits to future generations. Alter the cap on eligible income for SS taxes from $90,000 to a more reasonable figure (such as $250,000) and the problem disappears. More than enough reason to continue to give women the right to choose.

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