Disclaimer: I'm from Generation X, between the Boomers and Millennials.
You're starting to see a lot of ink getting spilled on the pages of magazines about the generational conflict. (see examples here and here.)
Generally the articles are so vague they are useless. However, there is one common thread they all talk about: the economy and who has it tougher.
So I decided to put some numbers behind this conflict.
Let's ignore the more long-term issues of the environment and social and political structures (and let's abstain from using hot-button words like "hippies" and "lazy") and focus just on the economy.
I believe the source of this conflict can be shown in a single graph.
The job market for older workers has somewhat recovered under Obama - but only for workers over 55.
Based on this graph you can see why Millenials might harbor some resentment.
But there is more to this story than this one graph displays.
Older is not better
No one is doubting that the workforce participation rate is dropping. Some of those that view the glass as half-full suggest that it is because Baby Boomers are retiring.
The problem with that theory is that it doesn't match up with data.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans between the ages of 45 and 60 say they plan to delay retirement, according to a report to be released Friday by the Conference Board. That was a steep jump from just two years earlier, when the group found that 42% of respondents expected to put off retirement.
The increase was driven by the financial losses, layoffs and income stagnation sustained during the last few years of recession and recovery...
Why are older workers not retiring? Because their 401k's are a disaster. 30% of working housholds have less than $1,000 in savings, and 60% of retired households rely on Social Security for a majority of their income.
Also, because older people are more often home owners, they have been hit harder by the housing bust. (Despite what you may have heard, the housing market hasn't come back for the average homeowner)
If you look beyond the raw job numbers, the Baby Boomers have had a tough time of it.
These Americans in their 50s and early 60s — those near retirement age who do not yet have access to Medicare and Social Security — have lost the most earnings power of any age group, with their household incomes 10 percent below what they made when the recovery began three years ago, according to Sentier Research, a data analysis company.Those are some pretty disastrous numbers for a generation that are supposedly the bad guys. So we should probably let them off the hook, right?
Unemployment rates for Americans nearing retirement are far lower than those for young people, who are recently out of school, with fewer skills and a shorter work history. But once out of a job, older workers have a much harder time finding another one. Over the last year, the average duration of unemployment for older people was 53 weeks, compared with 19 weeks for teenagers, according to the Labor Department's jobs report released on Friday.
"Wait a second," say the Millenials. "We have something to say about that."
Younger is not better
The Boomers having been forced to stay in the workforce because their houses and retirement savings have been pillaged by Wall Street has had a backlash in the job market.
We aren't just talking about high school dropouts either.
The job situation with well-educated youth is so bad that Yale is suing its former students.
If the participation rate is falling and older people aren't retiring, then someone is getting squeezed. Those people are young people.
So many are at home because they can’t afford to be elsewhere. And it’s getting worse. The number of young adults ages 20 to 34 living with their parents increased to 24 percent during the 2007-9 recession, from 17 percent in 1980, according to a study published last month by Zhenchao Qian, a sociology professor at Ohio State University.. The biggest increase was among millennials under 25: 43 percent in 2009 compared with 32 percent in 1980.While the Boomers are so screwed that they may never be able to stop working, the Millenials are so screwed that they may never be able to start working.
Also, those that are lucky enough to find jobs might not be so lucky after all.
Nearly a third of the nation’s working families earn salaries so low that they struggle to pay for their necessities, according to a new report.What does it all mean?
When you break it all down, you quickly realize that this "generational conflict" thing is all manufactured. The fact is that both the workers of the Baby Boomer generation and the workers of the Millenial generation have been screwed (although the Millenials have been hurt a little worse) by the same people - the 1%.
While the media manufactures "conflicts" to keep workers divided and distracted (illegal immigrants, War on Religion, racism, public vs. private employees, etc.), the elite are pillaging everything in site.
the newest tactic to impose more austerity measures in the US comes from a group of over 80 CEOs who are starting with $60 million to spend on a campaign called "Fix the Debt". They plan to convince people in the US that not only are cuts to vital programmes necessary, but that such cuts will strengthen them when exactly the opposite is true.Medicare and Social Security were not designed to cope with America's new demographic realities. CEOs are calling for gradual changes that will modernise these programmes and preserve the safety net for future generations of retirees.
These CEOs are members of the Business Round Table, an elite corporate club that claims to create 7.3 trillion in annual revenues. That gives them a lot of political clout. The real reason for their push to cut spending on important programmes like Social Security and Medicare is so corporate tax rates can be cut further...This push for corporate tax cuts comes although corporate profits have grown by 171 percent during the Obama presidency alone, the highest growth in profits since 1900.
- Gary Loveman, CEO Caesar's Entertainment Corporation
See, the problem is generational. Right?
No, the real problem was that Social Security and Medicare weren't designed for a society in which all the wealth is funneled up to the 1%. Simply lifting the cap on Social Security tax and treating capital gains in the same way that the IRS treats wages would fix whatever modest problems our critical entitlement programs are forecast to encounter.
But that might cut into those massive corporate profits.
So the next time the media tries to inspire you to resent a different generation of workers for having a tiny bit more than you, remember that you don't share the interests or motives of the person giving that report.
[Update: I thought that this graph would add to the discussion. Pay particular attention to the attitudes that people have towards poverty and the people suffering from it.