Joel Kotkin, whose work I've admired for a long time, points out that a different generation is looking at some tough times because people seem to be so cold:
Today’s youth, both here and abroad, have been screwed by their parents’ fiscal profligacy and economic mismanagement. Neil Howe, a leading generational theorist, cites the “greed, shortsightedness, and blind partisanship” of the boomers, of whom he is one, for having “brought the global economy to its knees.”Net worth is only one measurement, however. The larger issue is that the boomers and their older brothers and sisters intend to get paid.
How has this generation been screwed? Let’s count the ways, starting with the economy. No generation has suffered more from the Great Recession than the young. Median net worth of people under 35, according to the U.S. Census, fell 37 percent between 2005 and 2010; those over 65 took only a 13 percent hit.
The wealth gap today between younger and older Americans now stands as the widest on record. The median net worth of households headed by someone 65 or older is $170,494, 42 percent higher than in 1984, while the median net worth for younger-age households is $3,662, down 68 percent from a quarter century ago, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center.
The screwed generation also enters adulthood loaded down by a mountain of boomer- and senior-incurred debt—debt that spirals ever more out of control. The public debt constitutes a toxic legacy handed over to offspring who will have to pay it off in at least three ways: through higher taxes, less infrastructure and social spending, and, fatefully, the prospect of painfully slow growth for the foreseeable future.And it happens at all levels of government, too:
In the United States, the boomers’ bill has risen to about $50,000 a person. In Japan, the red ink for the next generation comes in at more than $95,000 a person. One nasty solution to pay for this growing debt is to tax workers and consumers. Both Germany and Japan, which appears about to double its VAT rate, have been exploring new taxes to pay for the pensions of the boomers.
The huge public-employee pensions now driving many states and cities—most recently Stockton, Calif.—toward the netherworld of bankruptcy represent an extreme case of intergenerational transfer from young to old. It’s a thoroughly rigged boomer game, providing guaranteed generous benefits to older public workers while handing the financial upper echelon a “Wall Street boondoggle” (to quote analyst Walter Russell Mead).It is a thoroughly rigged game, an intergenerational Ponzi scheme that is not sustainable, in large part because there aren't enough Boomer offspring to pay for the system.
But there's another problem -- the younger generation is getting screwed before they even enter the workforce. Back to Kotkin:
Then there is the debt that the millennials have incurred themselves. The average student, according to Forbes, already carries $12,700 in credit-card and other kinds of debt. Student loans have grown consistently over the last few decades to an average of $27,000 each. Nationwide in the U.S., tuition debt is close to $1 trillion.
This debt often results from the advice of teachers, largely boomers, that only more education—for which costs have risen at twice the rate of inflation since 2000—could solve the long-term issues of the young. “Our generation decided to go to school and continue into even higher forms of education like master’s and Ph.D. programs, thinking this will give us an edge,” notes Lizzie Guerra, a recent graduate from San Francisco State. “However, we found ourselves incredibly educated but drowning in piles of student loans with a job market that still isn’t hiring.”
This is something I struggle with, because my kids are approaching college age. Do we really want to send them into this mess?
So what do you do if you can't get a job, or if your B.A. in Ethnic Studies limits you to barista work? Well, you delay adulthood:
Inevitably, young people are delaying their leap into adulthood. Nearly a third of people between 18 and 34 have put off marriage or having a baby due to the recession, and a quarter have moved back to their parents’ homes, according to a Pew study. These decisions have helped cut the birthrate by 11 percent by 2011, while the marriage rate slumped 6.8 percent. The baby-boom echo generation could propel historically fecund America toward the kind of demographic disaster already evident in parts of Europe and Japan.There's a lot more in Kotkin's piece than I can cover this morning, but it's worth noting something else:
While economists may waste lots of hot air debating this, that and the other about the future growth trajectory of the US economy, in the aftermath of Goldman's cut of US GDP to just a 1.1% annualized rate of growth. And with the fiscal cliff, debt ceiling, Europe, China, and a plethora of other unknowns up ahead, this number will certainly decline further. Now here lies the rub: as the chart below shows total US marketable debt has doubled in the past 4 years, or an annualized growth rate of just above 21%.The overall economy is larger than the amount of debt we have, but not by much. We're on an unsustainable path. If you're more concerned about what Mitt Romney might have done a decade ago than you are with these larger trends, then you deserve what's coming.
There's a lot more at the first link -- it's all worth your time, especially this last bit:
So far, the Great Recession has driven young people around the high-income world to the left. Generations growing up in recessions appear more amenable to arguments for government-mandated income redistribution. And since so few young people pay much in the way of taxes, they are less affronted by the prospect of forking over than older voters, who do. This left-leaning tendency has been on display in recent European elections. In France, 57 percent voters 18 to 24 supported the Socialist François Hollande, one of the reasons why the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy lost. Similarly, 37 percent of those in that age category voted for Syrizia, the far-left party in Greece.It will be interesting to see if this trend continues here, in this cycle.