Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Baby Boomer Bombshell

America's children face a bleak future, and no current Presidential candidate from either political party is admitting this fact. The primaries and caucuses so far have released repeated sound bytes to the effect that "we will reclaim the future", or, "do whatever it takes to give our kids a better future", or, "we will deliver for our children, our grandchildren, and our great grandchildren". The closest thing to the truth is the sound byte that declares, "this is about the past versus the future". But this proximity to the truth is in the context of a political rival, and not about a generational divide. It is about the past, an entire generation born between 1946 to 1964 numbering about 78 million, whose retirement and health care benefits will be the burden of the current generation and the future children of America.

What future are these candidates referring to? Are they all blind to the fact that since the mid-sixties a decline in population has occurred, through artificial means and abortion? Families have become smaller and life expectancy has been raised from 65 years to 79 years old. This means that less people will bear the brunt of supporting an aging population. In the 1980s, those who retired were given ample support by the baby boomers, today the reverse is true. The campaign rhetoric is either ignorant of this fact or is deliberately being evaded or lied about.

The baby boomers comprise about 28% of America's adult population. This is the generation that was referred to as the "sandwiched generation" since they had to care for their parents while tending to their own kids. Their parents passed away between the ages of 65 and 72 years, and they have thus far delayed coming up with solutions to this burgeoning problem of retirement funding. Boomers presently make up the biggest share of the political, cultural, industrial, and academic class in the United States, and many hold leadership positions in these sectors.

America's children face rising taxes, declining quality of public services, antiquated and deteriorating public infrastructure like roads, sewer systems, and transportation networks. Its current young workers and children are about to be submerged by an immense income transfer from the youth to the elderly that will abnormally make it much more difficult for them to afford their own children.

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, three programs that are used by older citizens, comprise 40% of Federal spending. By 2030, the point where some boomers will still be around, it could swell up to 70%. Assuming there are no huge budget deficits, the only means of maintaining other programs would be through tax increases of up to 40% from today's levels. Avoiding the tax hikes means cutting funds for other programs by 60%. The burden of increased taxes and/or depleted public services will be carried by todays young workers, not the retirees. At the State and local levels, the pressures will be felt in services such as schools, parks, police, and libraries when these are squeezed for funds to pay retirement benefits for the elderly.

Candidates are faced with a dilemma: should they unburden the young by sacrificing the old through reduction in benefits, increased premium payments, raising the retirement age? Can this decision wait, or is it imperative that benefits to boomers and other existing retirees be cut since these are the source of mounting costs? The problem is, even if the benefits were trimmed to reduce costs, the doubling of the number of retirees by 2030 will still require increased costs, albeit lesser. Can the Presidential candidates risk explaining these to the voters and take a definite stand on the issue? The present federal policies are heavily skewed in favor of the old against the young; and the past over the future. How much change there should be and in what form, must be made a central issue in the campaign. But the unpopularity of this issue, considered as political hara kiri, have caused the candidates to lapse into forced amnesia.

The rhetorics have paid lip service to the future of America's children and have avoided talking of program specifics that would shape the very future they refer to. If this is the "Change from day one", it is 20 years in the past and it's very late. If this is "Change we can believe in", a promise of "straight talk" that conspicuously omits the facts of a looming problem; the underlying hypocrisy is the unkindest deception of all. It constitutes an endorsement of the status quo and it is speaking with a forked tongue. A tragedy if it is believed.

If this bombshell of an issue is not addressed and a definite solution mounted, America's children of the future will be very old....... at a very young age.



Tapline said...

Durano, outstanding post. The only problem I have is If we do not stem the rise of Islamofascism none of them will be around to worry about old age anyway. stay well....

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Tapline,

You are right again my friend.:-)
If no end is found to all these killings, everyone would die young.

The thing is, as CNN's correspondent Christiane Ammanpour found out in her research - the Islamic, Christian, Catholic, and Jewish fundamentalists are the stubborn and rigid segments of their respective religions; and are the most intolerant of other religions.

There is a trace of fascism on all sides. I wonder when they will get tired of killing and start healing? --Durano, done!

ZenDenizen said...

I am utterly confused. Do you live in the Phillipines? The majority of your posts seems to be about American socio-economic issues. Do you go back and forth or do you just happen to enjoy posting about this topic?

Carol D. O'Dell said...

We act like caring for our kids and our parents is something new. It's what people do. The range has widened, but two hundred years ago, you were still sandwiched between your kids and your parents--only you were 20, your parents were 35-40, and your kids were 4 and 5!

Part of the American problem lies in how we choose to live--2,3 cars, 2houses, boats, private pre-schools--no wonder our money is stretched.

I also realize there are many, many Americans making min. wage and can barely make one car payment.

Coming together as a family is crucial--for everyone. They're our buffer. Yes, there are stresses, but having mom or dad around can also be a good thing.

~Carol D. O'Dell
author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter's Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir,

ZenDenizen said...

Carol - Good points. I help support my parents and while I know "American" society looks down at me and assumes I'm a freeloading loser who lives with parents, I just happen to be one of the unfortunate ones whose parents never made enough to afford a carefree, independent lifestyle for me.

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Welcome Carol,

The post refers to the health care costs provided by government, but I do get the point you are referring to.

I agree with you on the generational differences when it comes to parents living with their kids, but the benefits far outweigh the little difficulties that crop up now and then.

Unfortunately, this type of familial bond is not a common thing in the American way of life. Most kids leave and live their own lives; parents are left to live on their social security benefits or other forms of retirement funds and investments.

Bonds can be reconstructed by visits during holidays and events, but generally, parents do not want to be beholden; and the children do not want pressures added to their own family by their parents' presence.

In most parts of Asia, it is the children's obligation to care for their parents in their old age. Of course, parents with Social Security benefits are much better off when living with their children, as they can make contributions to the household budget.

Thanks for dropping by. --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hello Zen,

Don't be confused. I am well aware of the socio-economic-political conditions in the US.

I work around Southeast Asia doing development and humanitarian projects; and yes, I do find myself on a number of occasions in the US, in very short periods, on account of my participation in some of the UN initiatives in Asia. I also have relatives in Las Vegas and California whom I visit when I'm there; and lots of friends in Hawaii. All of these people have children born and raised in America.

American socio-economic conditions have significant effects on the work we do, and this blog is a very small way of drawing attention to some of the unseen and forgotten concerns in the world, which also impacts on life in the US in some way.

American society and their way of living, generally, is anathema to building strong familial bonds. Carol is right, and the orientation she has about parents is a healthy one. There should be more of her in America.

I suspect, based on your temperament and mode of expressing yourself in your blog,that you are of Spanish descent(Latina/Hispanic). It's just a hunch and I could be wrong. I believe however that your steadfast character is a result of the values imparted by your parents. At times, outside the home, there may be a struggle with the difference in the standards society has that the values may need some tweaking.But letting them go is a mistake, since you endanger losing yourself in the process.

You are fortunate to live with your parents since the support group and lifeline you have is built in and unmatched in caring for you and understanding you; even if there are disagreements in methods. Being independent does not guarantee fulfillment, regardless if this was fortunately provided by your parents or not. ( think : Lindsay, Paris, Britney, McCaulay, etc.) The decisions we make at 18 we may sorely regret at 24, up to a lifetime. What's the point of independence when you become imprisoned by what is fashionable in society - which leaves you discontented and unhappy anyway? Desperate Housewives and Sex and the City are the epitome of emptiness made more hollow by shallow relationships built on physical satisfaction.

I'm a liberal, but I have a good grasp of what is practical and worthwhile achieving, and what is not worth pursuing.I realize now how much you respect your parents, and I have more respect for you because of it. --Durano, done!

The Fitness Diva said...

Zendenizen, do you mean that your parents can't afford an independent lifestyle for themselves? I'm not sure of what you mean. Being an American, I couldn't wait to get out of my parents' house and support myself. I think that is the American way, all this independence. To have to go back, even if it were possible, would be difficult! Even though I love them, I don't want to live with them. Sounds bad when you say it out loud, but I know many who feel the same.
It would be an instant reversion back to childhood, and suddenly having to answer for and explain my life choices. That's a big 'NOT'! lol
Taking care of them in their old age is becoming an issue, though...

Excellent, thought provoking post, Durano! We really are just screwing up the entire planet for our future generations, in TOO many ways. They will look back at the way we handled things and be very angry and upset at some point, as they should be.

Kim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kim said...

An excellent account Durano !!!!
hear hear !!!!
where have family values gone?
where is the respect for our aging population...
give me an extended family any day....
my children and their partners would always be welcome to live with me and vice versa...
where would we be if we didn't have our families ...:)

ps deleted my first comment....sp :)

ZenDenizen said...

Durano - It's interesting that you thought I was of Latina descent. I'm 100% Indian, born there and everything. I was raised in the US since the age of one though. However, the area I was raised was heavily Hispanic though so I have a strong interest in the culture.

Fitness Diva - That's correct, they can't afford to live independently and since I support them, I can't be independent as a result. Luckily we all get along decently otherwise it would be a nightmare. Nonetheless I wonder about how life on the other side would be.

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Fitness Diva,

This is the point I was saying to Zen; that the American way of life is not conducive to building strong familial bonds. Perhaps it has something to do with strong characters on all sides of the family (parents, children, grandparents), and the conscious and firmly held beliefs of the right to independence; or the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This has been interpreted in so many different ways that it has somehow distorted what was once called The American Dream.

I know Americans are so emphatic about their rights and would want these respected unconditionally. But rights come with obligations too, plus the rights of one ends, where the rights of others begin.

From where I view things, the merger of western and eastern culture provides the ideal orientation of family relationships. Traditions must be tempered with adaptability, but what to adapt to must be moderated so as not to extinguish the basic elements of good values, breeding, and respect for elders.

There are practices in American life that won't be acceptable in Asian societies. One example is a 15 year old barring parents from "entering her room when uninvited as it violates her right to privacy". A small ordinary aspect that says a lot about mutual respect, obligation and rights that crosses cultural boundaries resulting in unsavory relationships. Some aspects of these have even been made into law! If this is taking it too far, I don't know, but I doubt if it will build a healthy family bonding. --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Again Zen,

Some of the Latina characteristics must have rubbed off on you.:-)

India is such a massive place that is made extremely larger by the rich diversity in culture, practice,and values of its 800 million or so population. No wonder I missed guessing it correctly; goes to show how little I really know.

There will be time enough when you can be independent, not in your old age I hope. :-) Trust me Zen, your parents would love to see you settled and happy, with a life of your own. They know you cannot be under one roof forever; not that they don't want to, but because they know you need to.

By now they realize that you know what they need, and know too you will not forget. Start with that premise. Good luck on the financial side, I can understand your rage more now about the job you wrote in your site. --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hello Kim,

My sentiments are exactly like yours Kim! Who better to be with and enjoy life at the pre-departure times than with your own kids.

I allow them to be as free as they want, and support the careers they like and are interested in, but I always make sure that they are most welcome to return and stay. The place can accommodate them, and we can build additional quarters when needed.

Family is important, though I always encourage them to plan, also to integrate with communities where they are.

I came from a family that was into large families, and being around people of blood relations has somehow been confusing as a kid. But then, sticking to those within my age group was more than enough support.

Both my parents have passed away. My mom couldn't remember my name nor any of us because of the nature of her disease, Alzheimers. That was one of the saddest times in my life. She was living with my elder sister at the time and we visited every Saturday. I would even drop by on weekdays within a month.

I guess kids can never repay what parents have done for them, and they have to pass this on to their own children. While I realize that not all parent -child relationships are ideal, some form of gratitude is always in order in their old age. I believe that how you treat your parents would be the same way your children will treat you. It's education by example, I suppose. --Durano, done!

angesbiz said...

Durano, thanks for bringing this subject up for discussion. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula of whether the young or old are taken care of and it really is wrong that there has to be that choice.

As for extended families, believe it or not, I live with my mother-in-law. She never married and my partner is an only child so she loves the company and having her grandchildren around. 90% of the time it's great, but there is always that 10% that makes me wonder about moving out into our own place. We have a property which is not big enough for the four of us, so when the offer was made for us to move into here, we rented our property out which means that someone else is paying off our mortgage and there are also many tax advantages associated with it, so it made sense.

My parents are within 3 minutes by car as are my two brothers and my sister is only 10 minutes away. we often get together and it makes for some really great family events. Oh, and btw, I don't think I have mentioned to you that one of my sisters-in-law is Phillipino :)

As for the baby boomers, for many of them, their retirement funds will barely meet their needs! The number of retirees/baby boomers, by the year 2012 in the USA will be close to 80 million. This means that the 401k funds which are managed mainly in the stock market, will be drawn out and what will happen to the economy then? It will be significant in Australia too, only on a smaller scale. These are just two countries where the tsunami of baby boomers retiring will make a big impact on society and if we are not prepared for when that time comes, we could all be living below the poverty line. We must start planning our finances now so that we are able to cope with what lies ahead. I think it is important to be educated on how to make money work for us using property and the stock market as tools to build us a more secure future.

LOL... I didn't mean to take up so much room, but I feel passionate about individuals taking responsibility for themselves and knowing how to be able to take care of themselves. I believe it is our antiquated education system that has failed so many people. It really isn't fit for the 21st century.

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Ange,

You're welcome to take as much room as you like, there's more than enough for everyone. Following Matilda House's statement about their ritual in welcoming visitors to their land, it's the good and decent thing to do.

Speaking of the US, by 2030, that number will double to 160 million retirees since they will be joined by those born past the boomer years.

I can only imagine the impact of this on the global economy and the effects it will have on those economies that are still struggling and are deep in war , hunger, famine, without sanitation, water, medicine etc., etc. In my line of work, it's an image we imagine with horror.

I agree with you on making money work for each individual and providing for their retirement. But as most baby boomer parent will tell you, when kids are in need, they will always pluck from this fund even if it's not returned. Among Asians, there is this binding hope that whatever is missing, my relatives and children will always be supportive.

Most urbanites in Asia, the Philippines included, are of mixed race, even more so with the younger generation, because of the accessibility of travel and working abroad. This has brought some changes in the culture by way of family ties and aging parents. But there has been an adaptation that is acceptable and workable.

Those children coming home invest in some small business for their parents, where the income derived is also used to assist other siblings. The businesses put up are centered on the skills of parents and marketing has been mainstreamed through exports and internet trading.

Part of what we do is to train these parents in the concept of money and how to treat the funds to provide for themselves. Tedious process, but there is an element of fulfillment and lots of stories of success.

I fully agree with you on the education part and we are doing a small thing about it in our humble way; not only in the Philippines but throughout Southeast Asia.

Tell your Filipino sister-in-law Mabuhay! And tell her too "Pagyamanin mo ang swerte ng buhay mo. Huwag mong kalimutan at parating ipagmalaki na ikaw ay Pilipino". --Durano, done!