ELDER MUSIC: Motown Top 20 – Part 1

How to Invent a Generational War

Crabby Old Lady went into near fits Sunday morning when she saw a story in The New York Times titled, Old vs. Young.

Not again!

Yes, again, although the Times, as is so often the case, is a long way behind the rest of the media.

All of them have been trying to build an argument that greedy geezers are impoverishing young people and they all cite a November 2011 study from the Pew Research Center headlined, The Rising Age Gap in Economic Well-Being subtitled, The Old Prosper Relative to the Young.

Like yesterday's screed in the Times, most of the media amplify the tone and point of view from Pew's headline. As reporter David Leonhard wrote in Sunday's Times story:

“If there is a theme unifying these economic and political trends, in fact, it is that the young are generally losing out to the old.”

Although a large part of his story is devoted to the differences in political and social attitudes between young and old, Leonhart continues the onslaught against elders by contrasting, for one example, what he calls the “wealth gap,” based on Pew figures, as unfair to young people. This is Pew's chart on net worth by age:

Pew Net Worth

The stupidity of seeing inequity here astounds Crabby Old Lady. Under 35s have a net worth $3,662 versus $170,494 for 65 and older. So? The largest part of everyone's net worth is the value of their home. Elders have been paying off their mortgages for 30 years longer than 35-year-olds have.

Crabby hates to be obvious, but that is the way the world works. We start out young with very little, we work hard, pay our bills and when we get old, we have accumulated a little wealth to see us through until we die. That is how it is supposed to work.

It's not just net worth. The “wealth gap” Leonhard blames old people for includes income and home ownership all of which are the largest since record-keeping began.

Apparently, he does not know that for the past four years, the U.S. has been living in a recession so deep, some believe it is a depression. Apparently, he does not know that the 2008 crash stole trillions of dollars in savings from everyone, that millions of homes have been foreclosed upon or are underwater, that unemployment is stuck on hold and that employers haven't raised anyone's salary in 30 years.

But never mind that. Young people are hurting and it's old people's fault:

“Young adults are faring worse in the private sector and, in large part because they have less political power, have a less generous safety net beneath them.”

In Leonhart's world, Crabby is guessing, the average $1,100 per month Social Security check is way too much and if young people can't have Medicare then old people shouldn't have it either.

It doesn't occur to Leonhard (or anyone else who blames elders for everyone else's ills) that the better solution all around would be to expand Medicare to everyone along with paying all workers a living wage and seeing that the wealthy among us pay their fair share in taxes.

Yes, young people are having a terribly hard time getting started in the world. Just ask the old people – parents and grandparents – they are still living with after college.

But it is not the fault of old people.

Just as Crabby was winding down this story, an email arrived from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) with economist Dean Baker's response to Leonhard's story.

Baker and Crabby pretty much agree but because Baker is smarter and follows this stuff more closely than Crabby, he had some interesting additional information:

”There is a well-funded effort in this country to try to distract the public's attention from the massive upward redistribution of income over the last three decades by trying to claim that the issue is one of generational conflict rather than class conflict.

“Billionaire investment banker Peter Peterson is the most well-known funder of this effort, having kicked in a billion dollars of his own money for the cause.”

Baker ends his tirade acknowledging that young people are not doing well. Then:

“But this is a story of Wall Street greed, corruption, and incompetence. It has nothing to do with the Social Security and Medicare received by the elderly.

“Leonhardt should be ashamed for falling for this tripe.”

Hear, hear. Do not let the one percent and their sycophants start a generational war.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary Hertslet: An Episode of Life or Death in Rome


You write about a number of things that make me angry, but this makes me the most angry.

The young and the old are both getting crushed by the powers-that-be. Meanwhile, the robber barons hope the old and young will fight each other over scraps, while they pillage our economy to accumulate more wealth for themselves.

The good news is that even according to the Leonhardt article, the young largely don't buy it. It's my boomer generation that seems attracted to dangerous fables such as turning to a vulture capitalist to rescue the economy.

The young need education about about Social Security and Medicare, but by and large they know the problem is the one percent, not granny.

It's all intended to distract people from where the wealth has really gone-- to the 1%. Get the rest of us fighting among ourselves and 'they' win. The thing for average Americans to understand is the media is complicit in this. The ones who aren't end up fired or not getting jobs.

I had a big problem with that trope. The Times ran it on the center of page one above the fold, making it look like a straight news story; it's not. It's an opinion piece, and I don't care how many Pulitzers the author has won, it's skewed and unfair on every count.

Leonhart also ignored the fact that in most families, what affects one generation affects the others, as well. If a grandparent is impoverished, other family members generally step in at their own expense. If grandchildren are suffering because a daughter is a struggling single mom, the grandparents do everything they can to help. That's why there are so many more multigenerational households today. In most cases, it's the younger folks who've moved in with the older.

I have to wonder if that age group - "35 and under" - is skewered to include kids who are not even in the workforce and those who are still in diapers. I bet that number would be a lot higher if he would use a realistic age category of 18-35.

Rick Unger over at Forbes of all places calls this "the great Social Security lie:

"The "aging workforce" narrative serves to encourage and support the critics who claim that our problem is too many retirees lining up to collect their entitlements only to find that the government has failed to properly manage the Social Security Trust -- leaving the next generation of beneficiaries to be shortchanged 25 years down the line. As a result, the privatization pushers argue that Americans would be far better off looking out for their own retirement accounts so that government mismanagement will not come between hard-working citizens and their retirement money.

This is the Great American Social Security Lie.

It is a lie concocted by those seeking to fulfill Wall Street's eternal quest to get its sweaty palms on trillions of dollars of our retirement cash, allowing them to expand their casino operations beyond their wildest imaginations -- and Wall Street has a very healthy imagination"

I wonder whether the Pew study takes account of population demographics. There's now a demographic imbalance in the U.S. and many other countries--due to a combination of people living longer and a lower birthrate.

The youngest age group, as stated in the Pew report, is 18-35. I would never let something like what you suggest get past me although I certainly should have stated it.

It's not the seniors who are trying to double the interet rate on student loans ... or destroy Social Security, which we have paid in to all our lives ...or defund help for the less fortunate, it's the rich, greedy top 1% !!

And to add insult to injury, an article in the Business section of yesterday's local paper reported that CEOs' pay continues to rise while the rest of us struggle. This is despite so-called "say-in-pay" by shareholders and regardless of whether or not the company made a profit.

The business columnist commented that, young and old alike, we might as well accept that we're living in a plutocracy, and he doesn't see an end to it any time soon. Neither do I. I do think that eventually democracy will return to America, but it will take the 99% of all generations rising up to resist the divisive tactics of the conservative hard right. We need representatives in Washington D.C. who will work to overturn Citizens United and reform the electoral system so it works for all of us-- not just the wealthy.

"The youngest age group, as stated in the Pew report, is 18-35."

Thanks Ronni. I thought it kind of odd that PEW would be that slipshod.

It's just another example of the wealthy enablers trying to make a case for privatizing Social Security and Medicare.

I couldn't agree more.

Also those young people will be old people sooner when they think. If the current protections of Social Security and Medicare are, as FDR intended, saving the dignity of the elderly--then shouldn't all Americans be glad?

Thank heavens we had some money saved up when my son lost his job of 15 years! He had two sons still in school and didn't get another job in nine months. We were happy that we could help him get out from under an upside-down mortgage, get an apartment (paid his rent for a year), got him into a car without payments, and fed him for over a year. It was money he would have inherited upon our deaths, but, had we not been able to help him and the boys, who knows what would have happened? He found a good job, one son has graduated from college and the other will graduate in the spring. Did I mention they are both honor students? It would have been a shame if they had to drop out of school due to this crappy economy.

However, it does mean that we will be unable to move back to Colorado for a coulple more years, but it's worth it to know that we were able to give help when it was needed. And my grandsons certainly know how we helped and how hard we have worked all our lives for what we have. No generation gap there!

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones addresses the issue and cites others with the same mind set. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/06/war-against-young

When ripples like this comes along I always wonder who and what is behind it. Perhaps it's just the viral nature of the Internet, but I feel like someone is behind pushing it to the forefront as hard as they can.

If I had to guess, I would say it's a ploy to sow seeds against SS and Medicare, but I have no evidence to support the idea. I know I'm cynical, but perhaps I'm paranoid, as well.

We have to keep fighting these fallacies and appreciate your focus.

The Sept-Oct 2012 issue of UTNE Reader receives the credit for making me of your excellent blog! Crabby Old Lady, indeed... Ms. Bennett, you are on top of your game! But I digress...

This entire topic, the blaming of the "old" for the problems of the "young," has been percolating in the background for me for some time. Then last night Paul Ryan lit up the Republican/TEA party faithful with an address that seemed intended to place the premise of David Leonhardt's "Old vs. Young" article absolutely front and center.

Eric Utne's "A False War," at page 92, has pulled together a lot of the loose ends and helped me understand exactly why it is so disheartening to see Ryan and company ginning up the next "generational war:"
"The real culprits are the One Percenters: the Wall Street bankers, the corporate polluters, (especially big coal, oil, and natural gas), and the politicians and media who serve them. Boomers are no more responsible for mortgaging the future of the young than blacks are for the loss of poor whites' jobs, or women for the loss of men's jobs. The Haves (the One Percenters) will always try to turn different segments of the 99 Percent against each other. That's how they hold onto their power, even as the System itself runs increasingly out of anyone's control." - Eric Utne

The irony of hearing Ryan give the people responsible for the economic collapse a "pass," while blaming the rest of the 99 Percenters who are simply trying to salvage what little is left in the wake of the financial debacle, must not be lost on us. And if there is anyone who seriously thinks the party primarily responsible for the suddenly-much-lamented deficit (two credit card wars, etc.) has any viable plan to undo their damage, there is This Bridge in Brooklyn...
While no one can promise another 4 years of Obama will be able to correct the damage, in our guts we do have some idea what agreeing to go down the path of complete generational division will accomplish.

Please keep the pressure on, Crabby Old and-Sage Lady. Your efforts most definitely keep the rest of us engaged and trying to remain a part of potential solutions.

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