The Common Good

Boomer Blues: 'We don't learn from the past, and we don't plan for the future.'

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In this morning's New York Times, columnist Bob Herbert confesses to "An Uneasy Feeling," apparently his understated way of saying "panic." Herbert lists his concerns: unemployment, worthless mortgages, a decade with no job creation (previous decades since 1940 have all had at least 20% job growth), declining earnings, food insecurity, a health-care plan that is "a bloated, Rube Goldberg legislative mess," not enough money for libraries and teachers, two wars ...

"We're not smart as a nation," Herbert writes. "We don't learn from the past, and we don't plan for the future." I agree, and I am slightly more panicked than Mr Herbert.

Back in 2001, when President George W. Bush was launching a series of tax cuts, I had an uneasy feeling. This president is going to undo our nation's tenuous economic prosperity, I thought. The rising tide that was supposed to float all boats in the '80s had mainly floated the yachts. More of the same could be the ruination of whatever rafts and canoes were still above water.

In 2003, when Mr Bush led us into war on Iraq, my unease moved toward panic. This president has just helped us onto the back of a tiger, I thought. There is no way we will get off unscathed. If we weaken Iraq, Iran will cheerfully fill the gap. War will only increase terrorists' hatred of the West. We are in deep doo-doo now.

It didn't take any particular prophetic gift, political understanding, or dislike of Republicans to feel that panic: I have never had the first, am limited in the second, and developed the third only recently (my parents were thoughtful, reasonable Republicans and tried to raise me to be the same; and anyway, I don't see the Democrats doing much better). It just seems obvious that if we spend far more than we actually have, we are going to have unpleasant debts. It seems equally obvious that if we start bombing a part of the world that has hated the West since Rome split from Constantinople, we might end up with a serious public relations problem.

I am mentioning this for one reason only: right now something else seems equally obvious, and people aren't saying enough about it. A whole generation of Americans is plunging into poverty, and most of us don't see it coming.

Baby boomers are retiring. There are somewhere between 70 and 80 million of us in the United States -- say, 25% of the population. Many of the oldest boomers have already retired; in 20 years, almost all of us will be getting Social Security checks. If Social Security still exists.

I am concerned about Social Security -- thank God Mr Bush did not succeed in privatizing it -- but that is only part of the oncoming disaster. I am concerned about Medicare, but that too is only one factor. I am concerned about the effect on the financial markets when a large percentage of people who formerly purchased stocks and bonds start making regular withdrawals from their 401(k)s.

Most of all, I'm concerned about those 401(k)s.

[to be continued]

portrait-lavonne-neffLaVonne Neff is an amateur theologian and cook; lover of language and travel; wife, mother, grandmother, godmother, dogmother; perpetual student, constant reader, and Christian contrarian. She blogs at Lively Dust.

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