Young people will wake up to intergenerational theft… eventually.
I MET A FRIEND of mine at a bar one day during my senior year of college. The economy had just crashed and most people in Washington were still stumbling around in a fog, trying to adjust to the new reality. Our graduation—the ceremony that would hurl us into the maw of The Real World—was only months away. All things considered, a little (cheap) drinking seemed to be in order.
The conversation turned to politics, and my friend, a fairly committed Democrat, started railing.“They tell us we’re going to get Social Security when we retire, and they’ll have the money for it. But it’s bulls—t. It’s bulls—t. Where do they think the money is coming from?”
I was startled. Anyone who paid attention knew Social Security was going to have problems… eventually…decades away, by which point surely someone would have fixed it. But the program was always presumed to be permanent. Social Security would exist as it had since the sepia-toned days of FDR. My friend’s vitriol was something I hadn’t heard before.
We all graduated in 2009—the first class to experience the full bore of the recession right out of college. And we still feel it. Young people, the Millennial Generation, were hit particularly hard. The unemployment rate for those ages 18–29 is 12.7 percent, well above the national average. One-third of Millennials are underemployed, unable to find fulltime work. The idea of a career—stable advancement in a single job or industry—is going out of fashion. Instead, work life has a by-the-seat-of-your-pants feeling. And even for those with jobs, the economy has stunted adult life. Young people are increasingly delaying marriage and putting off buying a house. After college, 6 million of us moved back with our parents.
All this has many economists wondering whether Millennials are a “lost generation,” doomed to a lower quality of life than our parents. Newsweek put it more bluntly, calling us the “Screwed Generation.”
And yet in the teeth of this economy, Millennials are also expected to fund the lavish retirements of the same generation that created the crisis. It’s an outrageous injustice—and one that’s gradually dawning on the young. Having supported big-government policies for years, Millennials are now stumbling out of bed with a hangover. It’s a shift that could affect our politics for decades to come.
I INTERVIEWED SEVERAL YOUNG PEOPLE for this article, all of them between the ages of 24 and 27. With the exception of a Ron Paul supporter, they were all political centrists. None of them were passionate about either party. None of them worked in politics. And all of them agreed on one thing: Social Security as we know it won’t exist when they retire.
“I don’t think [Social Security] will be there in its current form,” said John, 25. “I think it will exist in some form with reduced benefits, that sort of thing. I don’t think it will really be of much support.”
That attitude matches recent polling. Half of young people aged 18–29 believe Social Security will be gone when they retire, according to a 2011 iOme Challenge survey. Of those who see the program surviving, only 5 percent think it will exist in its current form.
Young people don’t pore over every Social Security trustees’ report or monitor every unemployment rate downtick. But the abstracts speak for themselves. The Baby Boomers, all 72 million of them, are starting to retire. And Millennials, struggling just to find a job, are expected to foot the bill. When something is too top-heavy, it collapses.
Politically, the importance of this can’t be overstated. America’s youngest generation now believes that Social Security, the left’s most exalted accomplishment, is going to implode.
“In being in the middle of such an economic slowdown over such an extended period of time, obviously It has an exponentially damaging effect on Social Security. So we can’t keep going like this for too long before it does just crap out,” Monica, 26, told me.
This fear of a Great Crapping Out has many on the left panicked. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a think tank with such independent arbiters as Richard Trumka on its board of directors, rushed to reassure everyone that Social Security is just fine. “Young people are uninformed and therefore misinformed,” EPI declared. “They do not understand how Social Security works, who it affects, and how it fits into their future plans.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?