Joe Biden’s age has become a major issue in the 2020 presidential campaign. Partly this is because he has been showing signs of early dementia while he talks. But it’s also the fact that he uses outdated expressions. Recently the Internet went crazy when he showed off his new campaign bus with its new “no malarkey” logo. Come on, man!
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.)
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