That’s the reality, writes Matt Miller in the Washington Post:
You [younger Americans] are in big trouble. You don’t even know it. You’re busy trying to get a degree, land a job, start a family, save for a home. You don’t follow the news. But trust me—you’ve been taken for a ride by your elders. . . .
The job market for young people is a disaster, the toll of a burst financial and housing bubble that both parties let fester. The crisis has reached the point where years of unpaid labor (in the form of internships) have become a way of life for millions of Americans in their 20s.
Our K-12 schools have slid from the best in the world to mediocre under both Republican and Democratic presidents and governors. That’s largely because for decades we’ve embraced a bipartisan policy of recruiting middling students to become teachers.
Our roads, bridges, sewers, airports and power grids desperately need upgrades. Our investments in research and development as a share of our economy trail that of our peers. Republicans don’t seem to care. Democrats care enough to propose token sums that would fund a fraction of the need.
There’s no cash for such investments in the future because pension and health-care programs for seniors (plus a bloated Pentagon) take up so much of the budget. At the federal level, seven dollars go to programs supporting elderly consumption for every dollar invested in people under 18. Nationally (after taking account of the fact that most education is paid for at the state and local level), the ratio is still 2 1 / 2 to one…
Want more? For years, states have let public pension managers assume their investments would grow 7.5 or 8 percent a year, when 3 to 6 percent has been more realistic. This bipartisan ploy hides trillions more in pension shortfalls, funds that will have to be forked over one day by (you guessed it) younger Americans.
Read the whole thing. Miller echoes arguments Via Meadia has been making for some time. The evidence is devastating, but as Miller concludes, young people haven’t woken up to the dangers, even as the policies that turn the screws on them have gone on for years.
In 1995, when I was a (younger) generational equity worrywart, I asked then-Sen. Alan Simpson how to fix what was clearly coming. Simpson told me nothing would change until someone like me could walk into his office and say, “I’m from the American Association of Young People. We have 30 million members, and we’re watching you, Simpson. You [mess with] us and we’ll take you out.”
Will the kids wake up one day soon? Will anything be done to save them from paying their elders’ bills in addition to the hefty bills for other responsibilities and desires like having a family or buying a home?
This is partly because we’ve had two generations of older people behave with extreme shortsightedness and selfishness: the Boomers and their immediate heirs have been chasing unicorns and building their self esteem while neglecting their basic duties. But as Miller acknowledges it’s also partly because the challenges we face today are unusually hard. Many of our core systems — government, education, health care — are becoming impossibly expensive and unproductive given the demands that contemporary life puts on them.
America needs an upgrade, and young people need it more than anybody else. The old ways of doing things are gradually choking the life out of the country and making it harder and harder for people to do very simple things — like starting a family, raising, kids, preparing for retirement.
Generational equity is one of the reasons America has to change the way it does business; but every generation — including those not yet born — has a stake in breaking the chains that hold us back.
The IT revolution and globalization shouldn’t be impoverishing us; they offer unparalleled opportunities to give Americans the chance to live richer, more interesting and more fulfilling lives than ever before. But it’s raining soup, and America is still standing there with a fork — a blue model fork, and it’s just not what we need.