Thursday, August 16, 2012

What, Me Worry?

     The kids were over for a while last weekend. Saturday night they came in late, and of course they left the front light burning, as well as the one in the kitchen, and the fan in the TV room. When I came down in the morning, I sighed, and muttered something about how they wouldn't leave the lights on if they were paying the electric bill, and then I flipped off the lights -- and opened the windows to let in some cool early morning air, before we cranked up the air conditioner later in the day.

     The hotter it gets, the more we turn on the a/c, which in turn means more coal and oil burned up by the electric company. Which means more CO2 in the atmosphere, so it gets even hotter, which in turn leads to more air conditioning. And on and on.

     I don't think the kids get that. Meanwhile, do they lust after a Nissan Leaf (99 mpg) or Toyota Prius (50 mpg)? No, they salivate over a Ferrari (14 mpg) or a Maserati (15 mpg).

      The ice caps are melting. The Midwest is burning up. The Middle East is a cauldron. And the economy is sputtering.

     But wait a second! It occurred to me the other day, while I was worrying about unemployment ticking up again to 8.3%, that none of this really makes any difference in my life. Or any of our lives, for that matter. As long as the Social Security deposits keep coming, why should we retired people be concerned about all the problems going on in the world today?

     Health care? We've got Medicare. Income? We've got Social Security. And hopefully some savings, and some capital gains leftover from the halcyon economic days of the 1980s and '90s. Some of us might even have a pension.

     Okay, maybe you don't feel rich, but according to figures reported in the New York Times, the wealth gap between households headed by someone over 65, and someone under 35, is wider than ever. The income gap is also at a record high. Median inflation-adjusted income for households headed by people between 25 and 34 has dropped 11 percent in the last decade while remaining essentially unchanged for people over 55.

     And unemployment? Our careers are over. What do we care about the unemployment rate? Sure, we may be looking for a part-time job, or a consulting gig, or maybe we're interested in volunteering at the county park. But we only want to keep busy and earn a few extra bucks to stretch our fixed income. We're not looking for a career, with benefits and bonuses and promotions.

     Why are we so worried? Why is the Boomer anxiety index so high?  All these problems don't affect us very much. They affect our children.

     I recall a friend of mine, several years ago, who was obsessing over his daughter getting into college. But his daughter wasn't particularly concerned, she was busy having fun in high school. He pressed college guides on her and dragged her around to college trips, showing her small liberal arts schools, large urban universities, and everything in between.

     Then, finally, he realized he was more interested in college than she was -- and that equation just doesn't work. So he backed off and left her alone. Eventually she got motivated by herself, took her SATs, applied to several colleges, received a few acceptances, and picked one out.

     So it makes me wonder. Are we too concerned about the economy, the environment, health care and unemployment? Would we be better off just leaving it to the kids?

     It's an irony that older people, who have little stake in the future, vote in much greater proportions than younger people -- those who do have a stake in the future. Even in 2008, when Barack Obama supposedly galvanized young voters, only 51% of people age 18 - 29 managed to get to the polls, while 70% of people over age 65 got out to vote.

     Perhaps we retired folks shouldn't be more concerned about energy or the environment than our children are. We shouldn't be more concerned about the economy. We shouldn't be more concerned about politics.

     Maybe it's time we left it to them.

     By the way, my friend's daughter ended up going to the University of Maryland. She did fine, and now has a good job at an advertising company in New York. She also has a nice apartment in Brooklyn (one that I couldn't afford), doesn't even own a car, and is planning to get married later this year.

6 comments:

MerCyn said...

We do need to let the kids figure things out for themselves.
As for us boomers, at 62 I plan on living (hopefully) another two decades and maybe longer. A lot can happen. So I am interested for selfish reasons, but am also interested in all of the topics you mentioned for the kids and grandchildren.
There is a wonderful Indian proverb about doing things today based on how the actions will affect seven generations into the future. More policy makers and politicians should take it to heart and act accordingly. Our world just might be a better place.

Stephen Hayes said...

Every reasonable parent wants to leave a better world for their kids than the one they had themselves, so I think you're being a bit cheeky here. Of course, I could be wrong.

Douglas said...

"Why are we so worried? Why is the Boomer anxiety index so high? All these problems don't affect us very much. They affect our children."

I believe you answered your own question. I would have added (and grandchildren)

Dick Klade said...

Because we have this compulsion to plant the trees to be enjoyed by future generations.

schmidleysscribblins,wordpress.com said...

Even if kids vote and are informed as my granddaughters who listen to me and my daughter and David talk the pros and cons of each party, they are all voting for different people. One granddaughter is a Chik Fil A supporter the other a BLGT supporter. They are not on the same page, obviously.

Read my blog today, perhaps it will cheer you up a bit. Dianne

Linda Myers said...

I stopped working two years ago. Financially I'm fine, but what if?

That anxiety about the unknown lingers.