As one walks the labyrinthine corridors of Wall Street's imposing towers, the subtle smell of money and power is unmistakable. It's a world where fortunes are made or lost with the blink of an eye, a world far removed from the rust-laden factories that dot the industrial belt stretching from Pennsylvania to Indiana. Venture further west, and the silicon-infused pathways of the tech utopia bear witness to the creative minds shaping the future. Yet, amidst the diverse landscapes, there lurks a common specter, a silent saboteur, gnawing away at the foundations of our great nation - the American Dream.
The villain of this tale? Not foreign adversaries seeking to weaken our economy, nor the partisan tug-of-war which has sadly become a hallmark of modern American politics. The real culprits, surprising as it may seem, are those we once saw as the epitome of the American Dream: the Baby Boomers.
Certainly, these are strong accusations, and thus, they warrant rigorous justification. Born in the post-WWII boom years between 1946 and 1964, the Baby Boomers were handed the reins of a nation that was not just prosperous but was the torchbearer of the free world. Today, we find ourselves amidst an America where the once-vaunted economic mobility has been crippled, where our national debt to China has reached a staggering height, and where the divide - political, social, and economic - is tearing the very fabric of our unity.
Take, for instance, the reality of economic mobility. A study by Raj Chetty and his team at Stanford University's Equality of Opportunity Project revealed a disturbing trend: those born in the 1980s were the first generation to have a lower 50% chance of out-earning their parents at the same age. Compared to the Baby Boomers' heyday, where 90% of children earned more than their parents, the odds for the subsequent generations seem grim.
Moreover, our indebtedness to China is a glaring testament to the economic missteps that occurred on the Baby Boomers' watch. When Boomers took the helm, the U.S. was the world's largest creditor. Fast forward to today, the U.S. owes China over $1 trillion. As noted by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, China holds more than 5% of our national debt. It's not just an economic concern; it's a matter of national security.
Even more concerning is the widening socio-political divide that has seeped into every crevice of our society. The Pew Research Center notes a striking polarization in political attitudes based on age demographics, with younger generations leaning liberal and older generations conservatively. Yet, it's not a simple left-right rift. These divides manifest in policy preferences that shape our future - from healthcare to education, from climate change to immigration.
Yes, the Baby Boomers have left their mark, but at what cost? The prosperity they enjoyed seems more like a borrowed luxury, paid for by future generations. The keys they were handed opened doors to an America that was the beacon of the world, but the America they are leaving behind is mired in debt, inequality, and deep societal fissures.
Let us not mistake this as a blame game. There are many among the Baby Boomers who face the same challenges. But, acknowledging the truth of generational impact is the first step towards mending the chasm. The path forward is arduous, but it's a journey we must undertake, for the sake of the American Dream that we all hold dear.
How did we get here? Let's look at some facts.
As we delve into the macroeconomic trends and societal shifts of the last few decades, the impact of the Baby Boomer generation’s decisions becomes clearer. Since the 1980s, they've sat in the driving seat of our economy, steering it through the landscapes of prosperity and recession. However, the route they've chosen has been catastrophic for the backbone of America: the middle class.
In 1980, the middle class was the holder of 32% of the nation’s total wealth, a testament to an era when hard work could secure a comfortable life. However, by 2019, that number had shrunk to a meager 17% (Pew Research Center, 2020). Conversely, the wealth of the top 1%, who sat at 30% in 1980, has mushroomed to an astonishing 32% during the same period (Federal Reserve Bank, 2020). It appears as though the Boomers, whether consciously or not, allowed wealth to be syphoned away from the middle class and funneled into the pockets of the already affluent.
Moreover, under the Boomer's watch, our national debt has exploded, a troubling fact often glossed over in the discourse on America’s economic prowess. By the end of 2020, America's public debt reached a record $27 trillion (Congressional Budget Office, 2021). Around a third of this debt is owned by foreign countries, with China emerging as one of the largest creditors. We've essentially mortgaged our future to a geopolitical competitor, a shift that carries significant national security implications.
The environment, our most fundamental shared resource, has not been spared from the Boomer's detrimental impact. As noted in the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), more than half of all industrial carbon dioxide emissions have been released since 1980. This is the very period when the Boomers began to assume positions of influence and power. The prosperity derived from industries producing these emissions was undoubtedly enjoyed by the Boomers, yet the environmental bill is being passed on to Millennials and Gen Z.
These younger generations, my generation, are left holding a bag that is nothing short of a raw deal. The America they've inherited is riddled with inequality, stands on an environmentally degraded planet, and is shackled with an unhealthy economic dependence on foreign powers.
However, the list of generational inequities does not stop there. Consider the healthcare system, which, with its escalating costs and barriers to access, has left millions of Americans unable to afford basic care. According to a 2021 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, healthcare costs have risen 60% over the last decade, while wages have increased by only 26%.
Or take a look at our crumbling infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the U.S. a dismal C- grade on their 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, noting a lack of investment over several decades.
And let's not forget about the escalating cost of higher education. The College Board reports that the average tuition for a private four-year college in 1980 was $10,317 (adjusted for inflation), but by 2020, it was $37,650. As a result, student loan debt has swelled to an unprecedented $1.7 trillion, burdening young Americans in ways the Boomers never experienced.
It's clear: the Baby Boomer generation, for all its successes, has passed on a nation marred by financial inequality, environmental degradation, and a host of social and infrastructural issues. This is a call to action. It's high time we recognize these challenges and work to restore the true essence of the American Dream for the generations to come.
It's high time we call out this generational robbery for what it is: a betrayal of the American Dream.
This is not about laying blame on individual Baby Boomers. Many of them are struggling with the same issues we are. Instead, this is about holding accountable the institutions, policy-makers, and societal norms of the Boomer era that got us into this mess.
The Baby Boomers, once synonymous with the concept of the American Dream, have presided over significant alterations in our nation's socio-economic landscape. Their tenure has led to an economic scenario characterized by the dissipation of the middle class and a stark accumulation of wealth among the elite. Our national debt has spiraled out of control, in part due to an unhealthy fiscal reliance on international adversaries like China. Additionally, unchecked industrial activity and associated carbon emissions over the decades have accelerated the deterioration of our environment, the consequences of which are left for future generations to combat.
The young demographic cohorts, Millennials and Generation Z, are now receiving a nation marked by profound inequities, environmental distress, and a concerning economic dependence on overseas entities. Coupled with this is an ailing healthcare system, a deficit in infrastructure, and an educational framework that saddles students with an overwhelming volume of debt.
Nevertheless, this state of affairs doesn't spell the end of our narrative. We are at an important crossroads, where we can choose to restore the essence of the American Dream. It's our moment to implement systemic transformations that promote fairness, sustainability, and opportunities for all. This endeavor goes beyond simply correcting past errors; it's about preserving the spirit of the American Dream for future generations. Our actions today will dictate the legacy we leave behind - let's strive for it to be one of resilience, reform, and rejuvenation.