Thursday, October 29, 2009

Baby Boomer Shame

My 24-year-old son emerged into the job market from college at a very bad time—in the heart of a very bad economic recession. He's one of those young people who have been unable to find work in his discipline of choice (Physics) and instead is working at a grocery store doing  variety of duties. In some ways, he's quite lucky to have this, but I wish better for him, of course. 

Occasionally I find myself a bit glum for his situation. This is no longer an era where every hardworking young person can find a good-paying job quickly. He's really not able to put much money away in the job he has now, and it may be a long, long while until he'll be able to join the middle class routine of home ownership, new car, etc. LIke all parents, I'd like the very best for my son, and his economic struggles are hard to watch.

But it also occurs to me that my perspective is colored by an expectation of affluence that is perhaps a bit unreasonable to begin with. The last 30 years of so has seen a period of pretty unprecedented wealth among white-collar Americans, and who is to say that this current slump is not a long-overdue reality check for our entire culture? 

When I back away for a moment, I realize that my son's situation——struggle though it is——would be enviable to most of the world's population. He maintains his own apartment, albeit a small, very basic one. He keeps an aging car running well enough to get around town. He has a good circle of friends, a social life that include a bowling league, fantasy football. His job doesn't pay great, but it offers full benefits, and is enough for him to save a bit of money to go on a carefully planned week-long skiing vacation every January.  His tight budget makes him choose between electronic amenities——he has a cell phone but no land line, and has decided that internet access is more important than cable TV. He has a pet dog to which he is extremely attached. He lives carefully, but you wouldn't describe him as poverty stricken. He is disciplined enough to live well within his means, and doesn't carry any credit debt whatsoever. No college loans, no credit card payments.

Overall, he gives every indication of being pretty darned happy. So why is it that I want for him to have a large home mortgage, a new car loan, and all the rest? 

Among friends of my own vintage, I have few who have commented to me that the bad economy has caused them to re-evaluate what is genuinely important to them, and a couple have said that they have now found a new-found freedom in living simply and efficiently, and no longer particularly even long for the expensive luxuries they once regarded as automatic. 

However, there are more of my contemporaries who seem to feel that affluence is their birthright, and they simply won't tolerate moderation.

We American baby-boomers were unbelievably lucky  to have dropped onto the planet at the time we did. Perhaps its time we learned the reality that Gen X and Gen Y Americans, and the rest of the world, are taking in stride. 

We could start by supporting health care reform that benefits the greater good. Everywhere I look, there are aging baby-boomers arguing against health care reform, because it might create slight friction against our expectations of getting everything we want, when we want it. I overheard an office mate on the phone the other day, cussing out a health clinic because they didn't want to provide H1N1 vaccinations to healthy folks until the at-risk children had been innoculated. The accusation was that perhaps these innoculations were going to uninsured people rather than those with health insurance.  We're the ones who deserve it, was what my colleague was saying.

Makes me a bit ashamed of my generation. I can't help thinking that we're in this pickle because baby boomers have been snorting riches from the trough for far too long. 

1 comment: said...

Your son sounds like a young man to be incredibly proud of. Plus, he's got bowling league, fantasy football, and a loving dog! What more could a guy want?

BTW, I'd say your colleague DOES deserve his flu shot. Give him two.