Joe Biden’s basic appeal to voters: he’s not Donald Trump and he’ll have other people run the country.
In 1991 the demographers Neil Howe and William Strauss published their awkwardly-titled tome “13th Gen,” about Generation X—the Americans born between 1961 and 1981. If Xers had paid attention they would have committed suicide.
“Child poverty, employment, wages, home ownership, arrest records — in every category, this generation, the 13th since the American Revolution, is doing worse than the generation that came before,” New York Times book critic Andrew Leonard wrote at the time. “Indeed, for the first time since the Civil War, the authors of ‘13th Gen’ keep reminding us, young people are unlikely to surpass the affluence of their parents.”
Tellingly, the Times titled Leonard’s review “The Boomers’ Babies” as though their relationship to The Only Generation That Mattered at the time was their status as offspring. Which, equally tellingly, was incorrect. Most Xers’ parents belong to the Silent Generation that came of age in the 1940s and 1950s, not the Boom.
As Gen Xers passed through each stage of life, Mssrs. Howe and Strauss predicted, they would find themselves living through the worst possible time to be whatever age they happened to be. They attended secondary schools turned threadbare by budget cuts. As they entered young adulthood the government restored draft registration and abolished financial aid grants for college. When “13th Gen”came out the oldest Xers were in their late 20s, in the middle of a deep recession that decimated their job prospects and made it impossible for them to pay off their student loans or save for retirement.
The trend continued. The oldest Xers are in their late 50s but 47% have nothing saved for retirement; only 13% have more than $100,000.
Though frequently mocked by corporate journalists, Howe and Strauss have proven prescient, not least because they coined the word “Millennials.” If anything, demographic fate has become even unkinder to Gen X, now ages 36 to 56. Under “normal” circumstances, these Americans would be dominating businesses and cultural institutions.
Instead, political power and cultural influence have neatly leapfrogged from the ubiquitous Baby Boomers to their actual children, the Millennials.
Silicon Valley is one barometer. Tech is the nation’s most dynamic sector. The Valley wields influence disproportionate to its quarter of a million employees. Tech is militantly, brutally, cartoon-villainously ageist. People over 35–the “olds,” Millennials call us—need not apply.
Five years ago, I wrote: “The median American worker is age 42. The median age at Facebook, Google, AOL and Zynga, on the other hand, is 30 or younger. Twitter, which recently got hosed in an age discrimination lawsuit, has a median age of 28.” Silicon Valley hasn’t done anything to reverse this dismal record.
Google just settled another age discrimination lawsuit. But they haven’t learned anything.
Brazen ageism sticks out even more in a PC culture where discrimination against women, ethnic minorities, LGBTQA people and others prompts horror, as it should. Young people who don’t tolerate ethnic slurs call older folks slow, out-of-touch and stupid—remarks all the more baseless since they increasingly segregate themselves into dorm-like apartment complexes and hipster bars where they don’t encounter anyone older than 40.
“Google in 2014 began publishing diversity statistics and vowed to hire more women, minorities, and LGBTQ workers. But Google didn’t include diversity statistics for age in its diversity report, or even reference age. Incredibly, age remains invisible in Google’s 2019 diversity report,” marvels employment discrimination attorney Patricia Barnes.
Meanwhile, coverage of generational issues in mainstream media has deteriorated beyond the Howe-Strauss model of consistent discrimination to downright Orwellian: being “disappeared.” In articles and broadcasts conflicts between age groups lists the combatants as Boomers versus Millennials, or more broadly, between Boomers and Millennials and the generation after, Generation Z. Generation Xers aren’t mentioned. They—we—no longer exist. Which, considering why Gen Z is called that—first came X, Millennials were Y, then Z—is really weird.
True to “13th Gen” the book, America’s invisible generation is heading into its final chapter, old age, at yet another awful time to be that age.
The Boomers will shuffle off into the sunset, Social Security and Medicare benefits intact. Gen Xers stare into the abyss, bleakly contemplating starvation and dying of diseases for which they can’t afford medical treatment as the political system moves closer to granting corporate conservatives one of the dearest items on their agenda: abolishing or privatizing—which, if you’re poor, is jargon for eliminating—Social Security.
“Out With the Old, In With the Young,” an opinion essay by 40-year-old Gen Astra Taylor in the New York Times, provides a glimpse at how the ruling classes plan to take away government entitlement programs from Generation X: by disempowering them politically.
Taylor makes some good points. “From age limits on voting and eligibility for office, to the way House districts are drawn, to the problem of money in politics, our modern political system is stacked against the young,” she writes. Unlike adults, teenagers are forced to learn about the politics and history in school. They should be allowed to vote. Why should someone be able to drive, vote and join the military at age 18 but have to be 30 or older to serve in the Senate?
But Taylor’s piece is riddled with ageist assumptions such as the notion that younger people care more about climate change than older ones. She promulgates the disappearing of Generation X: “The boomers who came of age in the 1950s and ’60s benefited from boom times while Millennials and Generation Z have been dogged by the aftermath of the mortgage meltdown, an underwhelming recovery and Gilded Age levels of inequality.” “Generation X” does not appear in her piece—yet we’re the post-Boomers who got screwed first.
“Age-based inequities “and “the geographic biases of the American electoral system,” Taylor complains, hasten “the coming gerontocracy.” What she fails to see is that the gerontocracy is already here. The “olds” control power over big business and its pet politicians now—not because they’re elderly but because they’re Boomers.
The fortunes of an age group ebb and flow as different generations pass through it. When I was a kid in the 1970s, many older people were so poor they ate pet food. Now they are Boomers. Boomers are many, so they have power, thus they are rich. As throughout human history, the rich and powerful make things work for themselves.
The corollary is, Taylor doesn’t understand that as Boomers die and Xers replace them in nursing homes—or not, since they won’t be able to afford them—the elderly will become a dispossessed, disadvantaged, consistently screwed-over age group, just as Xers were as kids, young adults and during middle age. Taylor and her Millennial allies will be killing a gerontocracy that will already be dead.
As Millennials ascend and age into their 40s, they’ll join the call to get rid of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid so they can save on their taxes. Propaganda like Taylor’s will support the movement to disenfranchise the elderly.
Used to be, the olds voted in vast numbers to protect their political interests. Xers will be wandering the streets, dumpster-diving and dying a dog’s death, with no address to enter on a voter registration card.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Two weeks ago Bernie Sanders announced his “right to a secure retirement” plan. The media didn’t notice, the voters didn’t care, no one’s talking about it. But the problem is huge and about to get huger. And the government isn’t doing jack. As I wrote a year ago in a column that no one gave a crap about: “Born in 1961, the oldest Xers are graying, aching, 57. And in trouble. A New School study projects that 40% of workers ages 50-60 and their spouses who are not poor or near poor will fall into poverty or near poverty after they retire…The rapidity and scale of downward mobility among the elderly will shock American society, precipitating political upheavals as dramatic as those we saw during the 1930s.” Make that 58.
For the first time, the elderly now account for one out of five suicides. Experts expect that number to rise.
Like Sanders, Elizabeth Warren wants to shore up the finances of the Social Security system by imposing Social Security taxes on all income brackets, not just the lower ones, and replacing the current cost of living calculus with a metric that more realistically captures seniors’ spending habits. But only Sanders has proposed a plan to address the millions of Americans growing into old age with inadequate savings and pensions as healthcare costs soar.
So let’s take a look at Bernie’s plan.
“Beyond implementing Medicare for All and expanding it to include dental, hearing and vision coverage, Sanders’s health care plan will offer seniors supports and services at home ‘without waitlists, asset and income restrictions, and other barriers,’” reported The Hill. Heavier reliance on at-home care is one of the way more advanced countries like France care for older people. Well into her descent into Alzheimer’s my French grandmother continued to live at home; an attendant did her cooking, cleaning and laundry. She only moved to the hospital at the very end. (She tried get out of bed to go to the bathroom, fell, hit her head and died.)
Caring as I am now for my mom, who also has Alzheimer’s, I have to say that dental, hearing and vision costs—though significant—pale next to the $60,000-a-year-plus expense of nursing home care. Sanders’ plan would not address this pressing need.
Sanders wants to improve wages and working conditions for America’s beleaguered homecare workers. This is desperately needed—for the workers. For the aged and their caregivers, however, this means increased costs. Though happier homecare assistants will presumably do a better job, it’s odd that Sanders includes this idea as part of a retirement security agenda.
Sanders would expand “the 1965 Older Americans Act that would seek to create a new office within the Administration for Community Living to study social isolation among seniors and its impact and provide grants to states and municipalities to address the issue.” Sounds like another opportunity for state governments to fritter away poorly supervised federal funds on higher bureaucratic salaries and to plug holes in their budget when what is really needed is a direct transfer of cash into the bank accounts of older Americans and their families.
Sanders’ plan is full of Band-Aids like that. He would “expand the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to guarantee heating and cooling assistance, bolster the Commodity Supplemental Food Program to combat hunger among seniors and cap credit card interest rates at 15 percent and curtail the practices of loan sharks to protect seniors from ‘scams and predatory financial practices and instruments.'”
Make no mistake: when you can’t pay your heating oil bill and it’s February in Minnesota, you’re happy for any help you can get. Meals on Wheels is awesome. Credit card rates are too damn high. The creatures who record your “yes” when a robocaller calls you so they can run up unauthorized charges on your cards should be drawn and quartered.
But this is such lame legislation and in such small portions. Anyone who still believes Sanders is unrealistically ambitious need only look at this stuff.
If politics is the art of the possible, Americans should realize that what’s possible is much, much more than they’ve ever been told by either party or the press.
Under President Hugo Chávez gas cost 7 cents a gallon in Venezuela. Chávez’s logic was unimpeachable: Venezuela was the hemisphere’s largest producer of fossil fuel. Why shouldn’t Venezuelans benefit from their own country’s natural resources?
The United States has quietly become the largest energy producer on earth. Not just the elderly—everyone in the U.S.—should be paying next to nothing for fuel. (Spare me the emails about the environment. We need to ditch fossil fuels yesterday but, until we do, this is about economic justice.)
No one—again, not just senior citizens—should go hungry in this, the richest nation on the planet. It’s simply a matter of reallocating resources from the super wealthy and lawbreaking corporations to individual people who need them more.
The average bank savings account pays 0.1%. Bernie’s 15% cap on credit card rates doesn’t go nearly far enough. How about 1%? Banks would still make a profit.
My takeaway: Bernie Sanders deserves credit for trying to turn the looming retirement crisis into a 2020 campaign issue. It’s long overdue. His plan is detailed, plausible and stands head and shoulders above his rivals merely for existing.
But it’s weak tea. Even if it were enacted in its entirety it would still leave millions of Americans in coming years homeless and living in abject poverty. It doesn’t address the primary problem: paying for nursing home care that currently runs over $7,700 per month.
I wish progressives like Sanders would take a cue from President Trump in political negotiations: ask for the stars and you might wind up with the moon. Compromise with yourself in anticipation of your rivals’ complaints, ask for the upper atmosphere and you’ll likely get nothing much at all.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Forget terrorism, Ebola or even climate change — the most dangerous threat to this country is an epic retirement crisis.
We will soon see tens of millions of Americans reduced to poverty, bringing an end to the United States as an economic superpower.
Unlike attacks and pandemics, this crisis is an absolute certainty, one with a clear, near start date. But the media is hardly mentioning the imminent retirement crisis. So politicians haven’t even begun to think about it, much less take it seriously.
Actually, “retirement crisis” is a misnomer. The problem isn’t that people won’t be able to retire or will be living on a shoestring, though those things are true. We’re staring down the barrel of an epic old age crisis. For the average American, to be elderly will mean not mere belt-tightening, but real, grinding poverty: homelessness and hunger.
Throughout the last few decades, vulnerable people living from payday to payday have gotten battered by the shredding of the government safety net, a lack of accumulated savings caused by the boom-and-bust cycle of capitalism, and a lackluster real estate market.
Now members of the poor and lower middle class in their 50s and 60s are heading into a retirement crisis created by a perfect superstorm.
Traditional defined-benefit pension plans have been replaced by stingy 401(k)s and similar programs which employers no longer pay into, cap how much you can contribute (assuming you can afford it), take a beating during downturns in the stock market, and allow workers to tap when they’re laid off or run into financial trouble. After years of sketchy raids and outright theft, workers with old-fashioned corporate and government pensions can’t be sure their money will be there when they need it. The first Generation Xers — many of whom never had the opportunity to accumulate wealth due to several long recessions that impacted them particularly hard — will reach the traditional retirement age of 65 in the year 2024.
The facts are brutal:
No savings: The average Gen Xer only has a net worth of about $40,000 — enough to live on for a year. Maybe. In Akron. 36% of Americans don’t have a dime saved for retirement.
Later Social Security: Thanks to that lovable wacky Ronald Reagan, the Social Security retirement age was quietly raised to 67 for Gen Xers born after 1960. When you finally get Social Security, it doesn’t pay enough. The U.S. ranks third to last in social security benefits among developed nations.
Age discrimination: The continuing post-2008 recession hit those in their 50s especially hard; employers want cheaper, younger workers. 25% of Americans over age 55 now have no savings whatsoever.
About those pension plans: When journalists mention the retirement crisis, they focus on problems with the defined-benefit system. But that’s irrelevant to most Americans. 90% of private-sector workers don’t have one. Most government workers do — but 85% of Americans work in the private sector.
401ks suck (if you have one). Three out of four workers have no pension plan. What they might have is a 401k. The average Gen Xer who has a 401k — 69% don’t — has a $63,000 balance.
Financial experts say 92% of U.S. workers fall significantly short of what they’ll need to live decently after retirement. “In the decades to come,” Edward Siedle writes for Forbes, “we will witness millions of elderly Americans, the Baby Boomers and others, slipping into poverty. Too frail to work, too poor to retire will become the ‘new normal’ for many elderly Americans.”
This is about you — not some theoretical lazy Other.
“At some point,” Siedle says, “lack of savings, lack of employment possibilities and failing health will catch up with the overwhelming majority of the nation’s elders. Let me emphasize that we’re talking about the overwhelming majority, not a small percentage who arguably made bad decisions throughout their working lives.” [Emphasis is mine.]
America’s army of starving old people will drag down younger people too. “Public finances will be pushed to the limit, crowding out other priorities such as education,” Christian E. Weller predicts in The Hill. “Moreover, economic growth will be slower than it otherwise would be because employers will have more workers whose productivity is declining, while many older families, who could start successful new businesses, will forego those opportunities.”
And the pols?
Useless, Siedle concludes. “Conservatives are trying to pare back so-called entitlements that will mushroom in the near future and liberals have failed to acknowledge the crisis or propose any solutions.”
We can hit the streets to demand action now — or we’ll be living on them later.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Dole’s Secret Youth Strategy Revealed
As a stunned America reels from the shock of pre-selected Republican nominee Bob Dole’s emergence as the Republican nominee, patriotic citizens should read the following secret memo—faxed to me by a Dole mole. As a dutiful public service, I have opted to relinquish my normal weekly column space. Instead, I am releasing this explosive internal strategy paper, for the good of the country and to improve my lagging sales:
PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL—EYES ONLY
To: Bob Dole
cc: ___ _____________
From: C___s__ __in___
Dole ’96 National Youth Coordinator
Re: Youth Strategy for General Election
As you know, voters under 35 years of age have emerged as a potent political force. They were single-handedly responsible for Clinton’s 1992 win, but the Little Rock Mafia has failed to market themselves to this key group. For the first time in recent electoral history, the GOP has the chance to appeal to young people.
Not only are young voters (a.k.a. Generation Xers, twentysomethings, twentynothings, posties, Baby Busters, slackers, scum) the determinative demographic group this year—they are also the least worried about your age. February’s New York Times/CBS News poll revealed that 41 percent of respondents aged 65 and older think you’re too old to be an effective president, compared to 39 percent of those aged 45 to 64, or 31 percent of those 30 to 34, and 29 percent of those aged 18 to 29.
Says typical voter Mary Laurent, a Republican from Hollywood, Florida: “I’ll be 74. He’s 72. I think he looks pretty good but sometimes he looks tired. It all depends on who he picks as his Vice Presidential candidate.”
Moreover, you’ve alienated older people with your support of a plan to gut Medicare spending by $275 billion over seven years. Two-thirds of these selfish seniors oppose you on Medicare.
The data is clear: Sucking up to geezers is a losing game. If a Dole candidacy is to be successful, it must concentrate on issues and images that appeal to voters under 35. Specifically:
Baby Boomer Backlash. Difficult as it may be to believe, in light of the “generation gap” rhetoric of the ’60s, Gen Xers have more in common with older Americans over 60 than they do with Boomers (now aged 35 to 50).
Both the elderly and the young came of age under a stagnant economy. Young people, busy working several jobs to survive, do not empathize with their comparatively wealthy (middle-aged) Boomer seniors and their ceaseless search for personal self-fulfillment. Their disdain for a generation they blame for abandoning activism and embracing laissez-faire capitalism—often at their expense, by underpaying them—is impossible to exaggerate.
For Gen Xers, Clinton exemplifies the Baby Boomer stereotype—out-of-touch, wishy-washy, hypocritical, opportunistic, full of flexible idealism. Ask them about Renaissance Weekends, $100 haircuts, Hillary’s “luck” at the futures market or Chelsea’s private-schooling and they roll their eyes. While they’ve passed the last twenty years watching Boomers like Clinton racing to sell out; they never had anyone to sell out to. Gen Xers lost the vast majority of jobs caused by downsizing. They blame Clinton for supporting NAFTA. They overcame their annoyance at their Boomer bosses, gave Clinton’s generation a chance to run the country and got screwed.
Issues for Youngsters. Our focus groups tell us that young voters feel particularly strongly about economic issues. I recommend that you embrace the following promises in your platform at San Diego:
• Student Loan Forgiveness Plan: Your bland balanced-budget pitch (“Interest rates would drop 2 percent!”) is dead in the water. With the federal student-loan program bleeding $20 billion in defaults, ex-students aren’t paying them back anyway. The switch from grants to loans during the Reagan years saddled an entire generation of Americans with debt, preventing them from buying homes and stagnating the housing market. So let the Treasury repay old student loans. Recommended soundbite: “Let’s get real and revive the American Dream.”
• End Reverse Ageism: Drop the minimum car-rental age (now 25) and the drinking age from 21 to 16. Extend senior-citizen discounts to the young, who need it more. Soundbite: “If you’re old enough to work, you need a drink!”
• Corporate Responsibility: You’ve already cashed in on Pat Buchanan’s anti-corporate shtick. Go further by banning profit-enhancement layoffs. Support the SEC’s proposal to force corporations—the biggest employer of young voters—to limit their top salaries to no more than 20 times that of their lowest-paid employee. Soundbite: “Baby Boomers already got theirs. Let’s reward our future before it’s too late.”
• Your Vice President: Since you will probably die in office, choose a vibrant, hip veep, like Al Pacino (a gifted Italian-American actor, see “City Hall,” now playing at Georgetown Multiplex). Forget Colin Powell (black general/author)—when this generation grew up only losers went into the military. If you want to make a dual ploy for Xers and the black vote, consider Magic Johnson (photogenic basketball legend w/AIDS). A woman veep would go over well with kids raised overwhelmingly by divorced women, but Christi(n)e Whitman (NJ governor w/ ambiguous first name) is too patrician, too uptight. You’ll have to look outside the Republican party. Soundbite: “Two presidents for the price of one!”
Hip Imagery. Drop the “Comeback Adult” comparison rhetoric. Twenty-year-old voters consider Clinton too old as it is. Most young voters didn’t have fathers or extended families, so play the role of the wacky grandfather figure they never had. A lot of irrelevant old farts have cashed in on their ironic appeal with young adults(reverse hip): Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Pat Boone. Why not you? Everything square is hip again: the Little Rascals, lunch boxes, gas guzzlers. Don’t fight your age…revel in it! Emphasize your stodgy demeanor and links with the past, use make-up that makes you look even older.
Balance your retro appeal with up-to-date tactics: Appear with Courtney Love (seedy rock singer, see attached cassette) on MTV (cable-TV music channel). Consider a nose ring (like an earring, but goes in nostril). Refer to lines from Tarantino movies (young actor/director, see attached VHS tape) to explain your position on issues (On the minimum wage: “Hey, this is one great $5 milkshake.”). Discuss your World War II experiences in hard-boiled terms appealing to young people (“Sure, we played football with their skulls, but hey—no one asked them to bomb Pearl Harbor.”).
I realize that much of the pandering to the stapled-nose crowd I’ve outlined above may feel somewhat awkward. But bear in mind that you’ve managed to hold down your lunch while promising the world to the Christian Coalition. You can win without the Creationist lunatics, but you can’t win without the young. As always, I’ll be at (202) ___-____ if you need me.
(Ted Rall, 32, a syndicated editorial cartoonist for Chronicle Features and freelance writer, is the author of Waking Up In America (1992) and All The Rules Have Changed (1995).)