Our children are the future. So is an impending debt crisis that requires chokehold austerity measures, according to Congress, advocacy groups, big-government antagonists and everyone’s grandma. That last member of the fiscal phalanx is no joke.
As post-2008 recession America points to class warfare between the wealthy and the poor as our chief economic priority, that assumption belies an even deadlier reality: our generation has been given short shrift in favor of the elderly. Ironic for a nation that pretends to invest in future generations, today’s Facebook youths receive less government spending than the oldest Americans — not by dollar decimal points, but in the thousands per capita. And as social welfare programs are called out by belt-tightening conservatives around the country, it’s the safety nets supporting young and underprivileged kids, let alone the money they’ll need in the future, that get the axe first.
The concept of having your financial stability pickpocketed from you at this very moment might seem abstract. But it should mean something to you. If it doesn’t, we’re screwed.
2014 is not the intergenerational environment of 30 years ago. The Baby Boomers are finally retiring with gusto — the Pew Research Center estimates that about 10,000 geezers hit 65 each day, meaning our retirement population will approximately double by 2050. That’s a 100 percent growth. At the same rate, the working population — us, if a reminder is necessary — will only increase by 17 percent. The imbalance resembles an epileptic seesaw holding the young and old of American society on either end, your Social Security, Medicare and general array of entitlements then being flung far out of reach. Be mindful in the meantime that you’ve been paying into these programs as young, working adults. If these trends continue unabated, that money you’ve pumped into the system is likely never coming back to you.
Even if you’re privileged enough to come out with only minor scratches, plenty of your peers won’t be so lucky. Consider deep education cuts being made across the country. Consider poorer school districts and urban areas having to scrap their Head Start programs due to insufficient funding, the subsequent widening in income gaps and social advantages, even the more fortunate kids being inescapably tied down by rising student debt. Consider the grossly disproportionate $12,164 spent on children in 2008 with the $27,117 spent on retirees of the same year, according to the Urban Institute. Something’s not right here. Perhaps we could cut some more from the leaching kids in Detroit.
The fact that our generation isn’t mobilized doesn’t help. We have no central lobbying core — no AARP to protect our interests. We are not considered a crotchety voting demographic that requires keen political pandering, if our generation chooses to vote at all. Instead, the paradoxically childlike adults that run Congress hold our future checkbook, and our relationship is akin to asking for an allowance — Congress dictates the terms and we suffer the consequences.
But we don’t have to. Attend a speech on the tour of superstar investor and youth-advocate Stanley Druckenmiller and consider the inevitable: that unless this generation voices their opposition now, we accept a future that fiscally bleeds us dry, handed down to us so callously by Generation X. If Druckenmiller’s free-love generation could scale back America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, it’s embarrassing that we can only muster a protest for Facebook interface changes.
This is not a plea to wage war on grandma. We’re a society that takes care of our own. What we’re not is a hypocrite going belly up on our promises to provide for both our retirees and our kids — that’s not a choice we have to make. But at present, we’ve been too docile to notice. Congress has been protecting the interests of kids by teaching them to carry the burden of their ancestor’s blunders. Well, the kids grew up, but we can’t carry the load alone.