New York Times Op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof must be channeling my spirit. The baby boomers are so focused on impending retirement that they have forgotten America’s children, he writes in a column called The Greediest Generation. I swear, I’ve never talked to the guy.
While things have been getting better for the elderly in this nation for decades, it hasn’t improved at all for children. Kristof writes:
Traditionally in America, the people most likely to be poor were the elderly. As recently as 1966, for example, 29 percent of Americans over 65 were below the poverty line, compared with only 18 percent of American children. …
As of 2003, the share of elderly below the poverty line had fallen by two-thirds to 10 percent – representing a huge national success. Retirement in America is no longer feared as a time of destitution, but anticipated as a time of comfort and leisure.
Well, under President Bush’s new social security plan, I’ll be working my entire life. No way I’ll ever be able to afford retirement under that scenario. But here’s the kicker:
On the other hand, the proportion of children below the poverty line is still 18 percent, the same as it was in 1966. And while almost all the elderly now have health insurance under Medicare, about 29 percent of children had no health insurance at all at some point in the last 12 months.
Actually, conditions have worsened for America’s youth:
One measure of how children have tumbled as a priority in America is that in 1960 we ranked 12th in infant mortality among nations in the world, while now 40 nations have infant mortality rates better than ours or equal to it.
Yet with boomers planning their retirements, both on the federal and personal levels, America’s children may face even greater problems:
With boomers about to retire, I’m afraid that national priorities will be focused even more powerfully on the elderly rather than the young – because it’s the elderly who wield political clout.
“The elderly are retired, and it’s easier to get them to go to rallies or write their congresspeople,” notes Heather Boushey of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. “Children can’t vote, don’t give money and have no power, and neither do their parents.”
What Kristof doesn’t mention here are schools. As boomers retire, they have less and less incentive to fund public schools. When I lived in Arizona, retirement communities repeatedly defeated school bonds even though the cities they were a part of were growing at double digit rates. Some incorporated retirement communities exist just so the elderly don’t have to pay taxes into school systems.
These communities are not isolated to Arizona; they have been springing up around the nation as boomers reach early retirement. These communities don’t even like kids, as this Del Webb policy illustrates:
Your friends and family are always welcome to visit, and in most communities, visitors under the age of 19 are able to stay with you for up to 3 months each year. A Sales Associate can provide you with more specific details.
Even worse, Kristof writes, the boomers are robbing the economic future of our children to pay for their retirements:
We boomers are also preying on children in a more insidious way: We’re running up their debts, both by creating new entitlement programs and by running budget deficits today. Laurence Kotlikoff, an economist and fiscal expert who with Scott Burns wrote the excellent and scary book “The Coming Generational Storm,” calls this “fiscal child abuse.”
Kristof’s admonishes today’s leaders to take action now:
The solution is not to force the elderly to get by on cat food again. But we boomers need to resist the narcissistic impulse to ladle out more resources for ourselves. Our top domestic priorities should be to ensure that all children get health care and to get our fiscal house in order.
Otherwise, we boomers may earn a place in history as the worst generation.
Here, here, Nicholas Kristof. This generation controls virtually all the major levers of today’s society, which range from business, to the government, to the media, to advertising, to the nation’s universities. While the generations following boomers are just coming into their own, they are completely outnumbered and have made only shallow inroads into the nation’s leadership positions. So for the foreseeable future, we’re in the hands of the baby boomers. Why does that leave me worried?