Somewhere around 1931, in the midst of the great depression, my grandfather Bob was born. He was the son of The Greatest Generation. He was a funny guy and a musician, a little rascal of course, but you'd enjoy being around him because he was not crippled by crashing stocks or the prohibition of alcohol. He'd never had to stand in a bread line. His generation didn't think much about depression, because he never lived through one. To him, A.D.D. was a subject in school and not an excuse to go to the nurse's office. Unlike his parents who got a raw deal, he got a New one. As a result, he decided to have a gaggle of children. Seven to be exact.
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As a Grandfather, I remember him as a generous guy. He was the kind of guy that would insist you put extra syrup on your pancakes. He would give you whatever you needed, fix whatever you broke, and tell you a joke while he was at it, most likely one you've already heard, although you wanted to listen anyway.
He lived so bountifully within his middle-income lifestyle because he wasn't burdened by the kinds of money fears of the prior generation. His parents on the other hand were the most frugal generation because they had to be. The mattresses that used to store their tightly protected savings in cash, to my Grandpa became a place to store all his kids. On bunk beds, which have since been outlawed just like sharp corners and choking hazards formerly known as toys.
Bob started having children at 20 years old, and he wasn't strange for doing so. One of his offspring was my Dad. The Baby Boomer generation. They're the folks that were basically overtaking the earth, microwaving their food, and taking for granted that they could complete high school and immediately enter the workforce at median income levels. They lived it up, because they weren't outnumbered by anyone. They worked hard and could say anything they wanted without getting canceled. And while they weren't too busy trying to get a man on the moon they kicked off the civil rights movement while dodging the draft and discovering that sex was fun and not just a means of procreation.
And then they had generation X.
Generation X knew exactly what gender you were and they probably even had an idea what kind of underwear you wore. If they didn't, they asked on live television, especially if you were running for President. Generation X couldn't be bothered with your suits – or clean laundry for that matter. They created grunge which was not just music but also their laundry and hair. The world had a hard time getting along with them at first, but that's okay because Generation X themselves had an even harder time since they invented political correctness, and made sure you knew when you weren't.
They never walked uphill both ways anywhere, they just drove cars and had two TVs and plastic containers for food made of similar ingredients. It took a village to raise them, but once they were raised, they had the Millenial generation.
When we got Millenials, we realized that Gen X wasn't all that bad. They just wouldn't stop talking about music, and whether or not watching it on television was a right or a privilege.
Then millennials came in a ruined it all, just like every generation before them, except they went to therapy afterward. Until recently, they never lived in a world where women didn't choose when and how they had kids like their predecessors. They decided they wanted to be two-income households when and if they got married at all. They decided they wanted to wait until they were 30 to have kids. Maybe even 36. They wanted to have honeymoons for five to ten years, most likely followed by a babymoon. And after twenty years of taking birth control medicine, along with the natural decline in fertility that comes with age, getting pregnant got harder, obviously.
Or at least it's obvious to anyone who thinks it through (or reads the first FAQ at this link). As a result, Millenials are spending billions of dollars on fertility treatments and they just can't seem to get their birth rates up.
Boomers are retiring now. This is good for Boomers but it could be a new challenge for our nation's economy. Some would even say impending doom because, for the first time ever, retirees will come close to overtaking people who are still in the workforce. The median age of Americans is rising and has been steadily for years, due to the fact that we have a large retiring population, paired with a low birth rate. In 2020, we saw not only one of the biggest labor shortages but also the least amount of babies born since the 1960s, meaning that labor shortage may be here to stay as Boomers retire.
As much as we complain about not having music videos on MTV, we know that is not the greatest problem in society, although it's perhaps surprising that some people believe that the growing immigrant population is the bigger problem in America, despite our birth slowed rates, and disinterest in manufacturing jobs. Some fear immigrants will become citizens and vote. Some fear they will vote regardless. Some fear we'll lose our national identity, and suddenly we'll be faced with changing family values ranging from marriage to abortion to how people cut their grass (one of the most revered of family values).
These complex social issues loom over us regular people while we enjoy blissful social distance from our airconditioned homes with robust market values. By 2030, we may not be able to ignore them. The costs may be higher than we think. Not just in the burden of managing a retiring generation or an increasingly changing electorate, but in managing the burdens of large-scale changes in the demographics of the United States. We'll see it in matters of public funding and taxes, pressures on democracy, gender-based equity, poverty, and climate change. Why? Because our society's collective needs, struggles and traumas affect our lives, how we see the world, and how we vote.
My grandfather took care of everyone in his family, but in turn, he had seven children to hold him up. As we move forward in a society with a changing demographic, who will hold us up?
In the coming weeks, I'll dive into each one of these topics individually. Available for subscribers only.
- Gender Equality
- Financial Mobility
- Climate Change
How Generational Change is Changing America.
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