It’s only recently dawned on me that my generation—not just Baby Boomer but the older half of that generation—had it easy (unless you were a minority, which is a different story). My lifeline followed the prosperity of this country—starting from the 1950s when an economic and population boom followed the end of World War II. Housing was cheap, and my parents’ generation was flocking to the suburbs, where new subdivisions were being quickly built on what was farmland. I recall that my parents paid $15,000 in 1956 for the house where they raised our family. (Of course, everything was cheaper then; when I was in college, I remember working at office jobs where I was paid $2/hour.)
For my generation, college was affordable (I recall paying around $2,000 a semester), and jobs were plentiful after graduation. I didn’t have to worry about student debt, because my parents, even with seven children, were able to pay the tuition.
My father was a firm believer in the stock market, and his investments grew throughout the decades, with only a few blips here and there. He also saw the benefit of buying property—a few acres here and a few acres there when he had the money—which also accrued value as the decades passed.
But the younger generations now have to contend with buying their first home at sky-rocketing prices. At the same time, college prices have risen astronomically, and most young people are stuck with huge student loan payments. While I worked during an era when employers were generous with medical insurance plus 401(k) plans, today many have to work two jobs to make ends meet and, in this gig economy, don’t have medical insurance. Either they go without or pay through the nose for their own insurance, even with the help of the Affordable Care Act.
I’ve been retired for a while, but friends who are still employed by large companies tell me about the pressure to get as much done as possible in a short amount of time, which means sacrificing human relations, both with fellow workers and customers. I think of the customer service rep who is instructed to be polite but not engage in any conversation beyond the business at hand. Human contact, which is what makes our lives worthwhile, is sacrificed for efficiency and higher profit.
I remember my working career, starting in the 1970s, as more relaxed. Even at newspapers where deadlines were paramount, we had time to interact with fellow employees as well as the public. In times of stress, those relationships made the work bearable and even enjoyable. To be restricted in how much time we can spend with other humans is inhumane.
As a member of the Baby Boom generation, I didn’t know how easy I had it. But I can now see that I—and my generation—were riding a wave: one that is now crashing in every way—economically, culturally and environmentally. For those of us lucky to own our homes and to have invested in the stock market, we’re more than fortunate. It wasn’t just hard work that got us to this place; we were also damn lucky to live during the times we did. As far as I’m concerned, I owe society some payback for a gift I didn’t know that I received.