I was at a burger joint the other night, having dinner with my lovely B. On the way to the restaurant from work, B stopped by to visit a friend of hers who'd suffered a death in the family. She'd brought along a plate of homemade cookies, and stayed a little while to offer some friendly support.
So at dinner, across the wooden table, B said to me, "Do you know what her husband does for a
I had no idea. I barely knew the woman,
and had never met her husband. But they live in a nice house in town, so I figured maybe he works at the nearby Pepsi office park, or for
IBM which has a big complex in town -- or perhaps he commuted to the city
for some kind of management job.
"He drives a delivery truck for the local oil company." said B.
B's friend is a nurse, and has
a good job, which apparently pays for their mortgage and food and
clothes for their kids. The husband used to work for a financial firm as
some kind of commodities dealer. But a few years ago he was let go because,
as B explained it, whatever he did was rendered obsolete by the computers. The guy was unemployed for a
while, until a friend who worked for the local oil
distributor suggested he drive a truck to make a few extra dollars while he looked for
another opportunity. Now, several years later, he's still driving a truck.
John Agno of So Baby Boomer argues in his post, Generation Squeeze, that while all of us have suffered from the Great Recession and its long and painful aftermath, it's the Baby Boomers who have taken the greatest hit. "They have lost the most earning power of any age group," he wrote, "with their household
incomes 10 percent below what they made when the recovery began three
years ago, according to Sentier Research, a data analysis company."
In addition, Baby Boomers have suffered the most from falling real-estate prices. They are helping to support both aging parents and their underemployed 20-something children. Many have lost their jobs at a point in their lives when it's practically impossible to find another job at anywhere close to their old salaries. A lot of Boomers have lost their medical benefits, long before they're eligible for Medicare, and many have been forced to start taking Social Security as soon as they can, at age 62, thus shortchanging themselves by receiving lower monthly payments for the rest of their lives.
As a Baby Boomer myself, I find it hard to disagree with Agno's conclusions. But I can understand how a 20-something might disagree -- pointing out that many recent college graduates are working in jobs well below their skill level, while finding career-track positions closed off to them. Many are going back to school -- and incurring still more debt -- in a desperate attempt to develop a sought-after marketable skill. The result: Most 20-somethings make less money than their Baby Boomer parents did at a similar age, and they will likely be on a lower salary track for the rest of their lives.
Nevertheless, my sympathies go out to my fellow Baby Boomers. One friend of mine worked for years for one of the big liquor companies. He got laid off in his mid-50s, and soon found himself working as a clerk in our local liquor store. Another friend got laid off from his marketing job a few years ago. Luckily, his wife holds down a pretty good job. But he now spends his time as a house husband -- even though his kids are grown up and out of the house.
I know a man who turned 60 last year. He lost his job with the state government. Technically he's a lawyer; but he hasn't practiced law in years and he hasn't been able to find a legal job, so now he works part-time at a fitness club. His wife, also a lawyer, got laid off from her firm (even though she was a partner), and now works "of counsel" with another firm -- which is legalese for part-time, we'll call you when we need you, and pay half the going rate.
Despite this wife's experience, I'd venture to guess that Baby Boomer men have suffered more than women, in the sense that due simply to the conventions of the age -- for there was still plenty of sexism in the 1960s and '70s when those careers were getting started -- the men rose higher on the corporate ladder and the income scale ... and then they fell harder. But the economic, social and psychological toll has hit everyone, including spouses and children and other family members.
I wish I knew what was going to happen. Are we the next Great Britain, as some have suggested, just at the beginning of a long but inevitable economic decline? I hope not. I hope we solve the sequestration conundrum, and tackle the debt burden, and figure out a way to put people back to work in meaningful jobs. I hope we are able to put ourselves back on a progressive economic path that will allow us to take care of our elderly, and also serve our children and grandchildren well.
In the meantime, I guess we have to do is ... muddle through.