|A happy retiree|
What I noticed during this year's trip was the throng of retired people making the winter migration. Well, duh . . . yet in previous years there were plenty of retired folks, of course, but also lots of families with little children, and some college-age kids, and also couples in their 50s vacationing by themselves. This year, the ratio of retired people to the general population just seemed much higher than usual. Everyone I met had white hair and walked with a crooked gait, and were heading off to retirement meccas like Sarasota or The Villages or Vero Beach.
I realize this is a self-selected group of people -- retirees who are healthy enough and affluent enough take extended vacations in Florida. Nevertheless, I was struck by how many cheerful retirees, seemingly unaffected by economic doldrums, were enjoying this winter respite -- and how few younger people were making the trip. It made me consider how fortunate these retirees are, and I confess, it also brought to the surface a little twinge of envy.
And it made me wonder if this group of people -- people from their late 60s to early 80s -- are perhaps the ones who hit the sweet spot of American history. Are they the luckiest generation?
I'm talking about people born from the late 1920s to the early 1940s. For the most part, they were too young to face the horrors of World War II or Korea, and too old to be drafted into the army that slogged through the mud of Vietnam.
This generation enjoyed the fruits of the post-war economic boom. They came into the workforce in the 1950s, when there was no such thing as foreign competition, and developed their careers during the 1960s when the economy was a powerful, productive engine. If they didn't go to college, there were union jobs aplenty in places like Detroit or California. Yet, they did go to college in greater numbers than ever before, paying a pittance in tuition compared to today's students. And unlike recent college graduates, who are lucky to have a job at all, they could write their own ticket at a major corporation, with a good salary, plenty of job security and a nice pension.
People from this generation also benefited from medical advances, from Lipitor to Viagra, as well as many of the social changes of the late 20th century. Divorce had less social stigma. Abortions were available to those who needed them. Minorities began to shed their shackles. Ask Colin Powell (born in 1937) or entrepreneur Earl Graves (1935) or music pioneer Berry Gordy (1929). Ask Nancy Pelosi (born in 1940) or Martha Stewart (1941) or Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933).
In 2011, this generation continues to benefit from the timing of their birth. Today's retirees enjoy a support system that their parents would envy -- and their children may recall with wide-eyed astonishment. These days a Social Security check averages $1075 a month. The parents of this generation, in 1980, took home Social Security averaging a measly $285 per month. Even after adjusting for inflation, the benefit today is about double what it was in 1980.
|An anxious 20-something|
A recent piece in The Wall Street Journal, "Generation Y Me?" outlines the plight of those born in the 1980s and '90s, blaming some of their economic woes on Baby Boomers. As a Baby Boomer myself, I will admit there's probably some truth to the complaint. Maybe Baby Boomers have it better than Generation X, who in turn have it better than Generation Y.
Americans have historically enjoyed a better life than their parents. And their children a better life still. Is it possible that, for the first time, the younger generation has a lower standard of living, a tougher time getting ahead in life?
I don't know. None of us chooses which generation we belong to. We suffer the consequences. Or, if we're lucky, we enjoy the benefits.