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Boomers: ‘Sorry, but we spent all the money.’
Listen to the broadcast of You Tell Me on KTBB AM 600, Friday, December 20, 2013.
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I have a daughter who finished college three years ago and, to her credit, does not live at home and does not come to her parents for money. She is making her own way in the world and I’m proud of her for it.
But as youth fades into full adulthood for my daughter, she is coming face-to-face with the frustrations of trying to improve her worldly fortune through her patient industry – a Dickensian way of saying that she doesn’t make a lot of money and can’t see a way to fix it.
I feel her pain – particularly given what her college degree cost. It is a simple fact that when I was her age, the American economy afforded much more opportunity for young, eager college grads than it does today and I feel badly about that.
Put very bluntly, we Baby Boomers have left our children a world of diminished prospects.
By the time of my coming of age, America had not yet squandered its massive post-war wealth, had not yet piled up a crippling debt and had not yet expanded the welfare and entitlement states beyond sustainability.
We had not yet inflicted all of the damage that was eventually to come to secondary and post-secondary education.
But the damage got done and it got done mostly on our watch.
Agenda-driven race, class and gender “studies” too often today crowd out courses in English, math, history and science on college campuses. The result emerges in the form of a giant cohort of graduates who have a badly skewed sense of world and political history, poor command of basic skills and an unrealistic understanding of economics. The culture that undergirded the American founding is at best largely unknown to a large percentage of recent graduates or at worst is openly rejected by them.
That missing fund of basic knowledge is an undeniable factor in the lackluster employment prospects that many college graduates now face. Poorly prepared is poorly prepared and prospective employers – in a persistently weak economy – are making their hiring decisions accordingly. That this academic deficit was purchased in colleges that raise tuition at a multiple of underlying inflation – financed with a trillion dollars of debt that will haunt this generation and the one to come – compounds the felony.
As serious an indictment of the boomer generation as this is, it pales in comparison to the real crime.
We boomers simply cannot be forgiven for wasting all of the money. America’s success in World War II and its resulting post-war economic dominance bequeathed to us boomers national wealth on an unprecedented scale. That wealth is now gone and in its place stands a mountain of debt that my daughter and her peers will shoulder all the way to their graves.
That nearly the entire wad was wasted on the false premise that benefits can be enjoyed in the absence of personal responsibility is simply heartbreaking. Since 1964 we’ve spent $15 trillion on welfare and food stamps and we under-funded Social Security and Medicare by close to $100 trillion. For all that, the poverty rate remains unchanged from 1964 and the average boomer has less retirement security than that of his parents. Tens of millions of Americans now don’t even try to become self-sufficient.
My daughter and her friends will get the bills for all this and try to pay them on salaries that, when adjusted for inflation, are less than what college grads made in 1970.
When I, a late Baby Boomer, came of age, America was still on the march economically and I and my cohort got to march along with it. Shame on us, then, for spending all the money and running up the credit card while making promises that cannot possibly be kept.
‘Whom the gods would destroy they make prosperous,’ goes the saying. It was America’s prosperity that enabled the fiscal recklessness that now stymies the efforts of recent grads to get ahead.
We boomers owe them an apology.