All we are asking is to give baby boomers a break

Oh, we think you’re really going to like this one: a tribute by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, writing in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, and saying sure, my parents had free healthcare and liked the Beatles, but they didn’t steal anyone’s future, so give baby boomers a break!

I can’t remember exactly when it was that I discovered I was an heiress, but I’d put it somewhere between the ages of 15 and 16. Paris Hilton was at her mid-noughties televisual peak, and I’d taken it upon myself to inquire as to why it was that neither of my parents had thought to put a little something aside for my college fund. I did not know then what I do now, which is that four out of five middle-income families fail to save for their children’s future, with 78% of those earning between £31,000 and £42,000 (almost $50,000 to nearly $70,000 U.S.) saying they would not or could not start a nest egg.

The Beatles

The Beatles

My parents had nowhere near that amount, but my lack of an Isa was, as far as my teenage brain was concerned, nothing to do with us not having any money and everything to do with having selfish parents who had been too busy quaffing £2.99 (almost $5) Spar Frascati to bother thinking about poor little me.

It was a comfort, therefore, when my dad informed me that I did indeed have an inheritance, and that it took the form of non-liquid assets. “I’ve kept every back issue of Private Eye since about 1976,” he gravely informed me. “They are in the shed, and are sure to be worth something some day.” I grandly shook my father’s hand in the manner of an Astor; the back pages of Tatler awaited.

Much has been made of the yawning gulf that exists between the cushy baby boomer and the cash-strapped millennials, and how my generation has been robbed of every opportunity while our elders sit pretty in semi-detached comfort, reaping the benefits of a free education. I myself bought into this way of thinking, especially when I was unemployed and spent my time reading books and articles with titles such as The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Stole Their Children’s Future – and Why They Should Give it Back and The Vice Guide to Killing Your Parents.

However, on discovering that my parents technically come within the baby-boomer bracket – having been born in the 1950s and therefore supposedly benefited from both postwar affluence and the worship of youth culture – I’m having to reassess. Yes, they had free healthcare, education and whatnot, and they do like the Beatles; but the nature of my legacy being what it is, all said, I can’t help but think that they make pretty rubbish baby boomers. It’s not just my parents, either – I tend to see the emergence of a new “Lidl class” as nothing to do with middle-class older people suddenly deigning to shop in budget supermarkets and everything to do with them not being able to afford to shop anywhere else.

Rock festival in 1979.

Rock festival in 1979.

That’s not to say that other people’s parents aren’t living up to expectations as far as nest eggs are concerned. The people I know in their 20s who have been able to get on the property ladder have done so thanks to their parents’ substantial savings, with some even having bought flats outright. For those of us in thrall to private landlords, it certainly makes the playing field uneven.

But for every young person with minimal debt and a room of their own, there seems to be another whose “baby boomer” parents are struggling, whether because of the death grip of their enormous mortgages, or because of debt, unemployment and redundancy. There seems to be a palpable sense of guilt and regret at being unable to fully support their children, a generation that will have a lower standard of living than their parents, and I sympathise. It can’t be a nice feeling.

This isn’t about going easy on baby boomers, or denying how they “had it so good.” This was a generation subjected to so much glaring focus and analysis from the media and marketers alike that the impression is that it was distinct when, to an extent, it is a confection.

And as for my inheritance: it was a bust. The shed roof had a leak in it.

1 Comment

  1. Lucy, your article gave me pause.

    I never considered the “baby boomer” generation as global. I viewed it as an American phenomenon. So thanks for the international perspective.

    I realize that your article was written regarding Baby Boomers and their offspring but I do take exception to your overall concept that the Baby Boomer Generation stole the future from subsequent generations.

    It would be hard for me to delineate the basis for my opinion here but the laws that were written that stole the future of the current and future generations were written by a small percentage of powerful people who I would not call Boomers even though they were born during that time period.

    In America, it is politicians like Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, and others, and Corporate CEOs like the Koch Brothers who funded ALEC, for example, in order to gain control of the U.S. government. They have killed democracy and stolen not only America’s wealth and resources but they have global ambitions to control the wealth of the world.

    Both my parents were hardworking people, they provided for their four children but we were not pampered. We went to school. We paid for our education. We went to work. We did not get free health care.

    When my parents died, they left us the remains of the their assets which have continued to provide some support for their children and their grandchildren. But, we still work and struggle to pay our bills including health care.

    My parents believed in democracy and in paying taxes for public services including public education, roads, water service, police, fire protection, social security, medicare and more. They believed in helping make the world a better place.

    While I am the Baby Boomer in the family, I grew up believing in hard work and making the world a better place, too. Many of the Baby Boomers I knew held similar beliefs. I was running my own company at 26. Many Baby Boomers were entrepreneurial.

    What I am saying is be careful where you lay the blame for your generation’s circumstances. Labeling a whole generation as spendthrifts which is what I think you are saying is erroneous. Look to your politicians and CEOs.

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