Monday, November 7, 2011

I hate news like this

I hate news like this. "This" being an article from the Associated Press that explains the growing "wealth gap" between generations.

The typical US household headed by someone 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35. Under 35 would be just about all of my kids and their spouses.

I lie awake at night with stuff like this. The AP article only confirmed what I have known in my gut for a long time: life is going to be financially difficult for most of my children. In the short term, for sure, and quite possibly into the long term.

Mark and I have nine children in our blended family. Our children range in age from 25-35. Out of the nine children, only three of them are in a position where they and their spouse have both finished their education, have a job in their field, and are settled into a solid housing situation. Only three of them (not the same three) have ever purchased real estate.

I came of age in a different economy. The expectations may have been similar, but the realities were entirely different. I was 25 when my first husband and I moved to Oregon. I hadn't finished college yet, but he was well launched into a career in his field, and he did not have a Master's degree. We had already bought and sold three houses in southern California; our new Oregon home was our fourth house that we bought. That was in 1979.

At the same time, what is really curious to me is another article I heard recently on an NPR broadcast. The article cites evidence that the "silent generation" - people in the US ages 66-83 years old - are angrier about the choices in the upcoming presidential election than the youngest voters. I am puzzled by this. Even though--according to some measures, at least--they have a greater household net worth than the younger voters, they are more dissatisfied with the direction the US is taking?

I think of things like...maybe they are more angry because they have lived longer and have seen more, and they understand things the younger voters don't yet. Or maybe the changing realities of the global economy and internet age have caught them off-guard and they feel vulnerable and angry. Or perhaps...I don't know. I want to listen, learn, try to understand where this view comes from.

Personally, I am more worried about the ongoing economic downturn--which is a worldwide problem, not just something to pin on a particular US presidential administration (Look at Greece! Look at Italy!)--than I am about one upcoming presidential election. I have a gloomy sense that the world's economic restructuring is going to outlast the 2012 elections, no matter who is elected.

I'm a mother and a grandmother, and I want things to be better for my children and grandchildren. I want these young families to be more financially secure, live in a more comfortable home, do more things and go more places. (What parent would want their child to achieve less than they--the pareent--did?)

I'm not sure I'm going to get what I want.

And what can I do about any of it? I encouraged my kids to be good students (and they were). I insisted that they go on to college (most of them did). I taught them to make responsible choices in their families and communities (and they do). At the end of the 20th century, that might have been enough.

The 21st century is another story. I don't know the plot, I can barely figure out the characters, and for sure I don't know how the rising action / climax / end of the story are going to turn out.

I see so many people my age--middle aged--working along in jobs, but my own kids struggle to find good employment. Are there too many of us older workers? But what would it help if we weren't working? Then we'd be dependent on the younger ones. I feel like it's my duty to my children and their generation to continue working so that I can prepare financially for retirement, when I can't work productively, so that they don't have to care for me. But in the meantime, there are now 4 years of new teachers graduating from college who can't find jobs. There's a recent grad in my PSU class who is all excited because he might be allowed to get his name on the substitute teacher list in my school district.

Where are all these talented young teachers going to find work? How will the college graduates of my children's generation find jobs in their fields--careers--to support their families, buy homes, pay off their college loans?

I'm not meaning to be all doom and gloom (and it's late and I need to get to bed), but these are thoughts that weigh on me sometimes. Usually I keep the positive outlook, follow the admonition to "be of good cheer," hang onto hope. I don't say much about all these questions that I carry. Not very often.

But that A.P. article, along with the NPR news item, have got me to thinking and wondering a little more...


Polly @ Pieces by Polly said...

Interesting articles, Mom. We do live in a different world now that years ago. For myself, I think a huge cause of this tragedy is the availability of easy credit. We've read a couple articles about how even the easy availability of student loans (which seems like "good" debt) has led to college tuition systematically being much higher than it otherwise would be...and therefore graduates being strapped with more debt than they need to be. Of course we all know what happened when home loans were made to people who could not really afford them. And I think everyone knows of a people who just live beyond their means in general. As a younger person, I have no problem with the older generations seeing a payoff for their hard work...but when I see people of your generation who are not saving for retirement and have made a slew of poor choices in regards to credit, etc...that's what makes me angry.

Katie Lewis said...

I agree with Polly that a lot of the problem is due to people buying things they can't afford. I know even we do it to some extent, but buying $20 worth of useful items at Goodwill is different from buying cars and TVs and other super expensive stuff that doesn't have a very long shelf life. It's not that I don't want people to have things they want, but I think it would solve a lot of problems if people had to earn the money for things before they buy them. I think it would make the dollar be of real worth and carry a heck of a lot more weight. What's crazy to me is that THAT (people earning money for something before they buy it) is a crazy idea these days.

Lisa Lou said...

The only debt my husband and I have right now is student loans for graduate school/medical school. Unfortunately, because of career choices we made, we had to take out student loans to finish school. And Mark still has 4+ years of doctorate school. I worry a lot about it. A LOT. But then I remember that we get to pay tithing and we can give generously to those who are so worse off then we are. We have a car that works, a home to keep us warm, enough food in our bellies. Not to play down the financial crisis, but sometimes I have to remind myself that it'll all work out, if I am a wise steward over what the Lord has given me and my family.

Annemarie said...

Me too, friend.