While the economy sputters, tensions heats up between the generations.
Lost in the diversity of generational news last week was a common element – the generations are struggling to right themselves following the recession and going forward.
The just released cover story of October’s The Atlantic magazine talks about the Baby Boomers’ last chance to redeem themselves after what the writer Michael Kinsley describes as decades of self-absorbed and self-indulgent behavior.
The postwar generation is leaving a bitter legacy: crumbling infrastructure, crushing public debt, and a reflexive cynicism about all institutions, from churches to Congress to the media. It’s time for redemption…Kinsley urges fellow Boomers to cough up some cash—say, $14 trillion—to fix the mess they’re leaving.
That could be a problem. Boston College's Center for Retirement Research released a study last week too that exposed a retirement income deficit that few people likely found surprising. The gap between what Americans need for retirement and the amount they have saved is a staggering $6.6 trillion.
“The retirement income deficit is the gap between the pensions and retirement savings that American households have today and what they should have today to be on track to maintain their living standard in retirement,” said Karen Friedman, executive vice president and policy director of the Pension Rights Center. “The retirement income deficit shows just how bad the crisis has become.”
If Baby Boomers can’t maintain the lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed to, they will likely keep working. An article in Fast Company last week offered harsh realities that have stymied Generation Y (also called Millennials). Topping the list was: The Baby Boomers are not voluntarily leaving the workplace! :
The Recession has decimated the Boomers’ opportunity to retire and left them with no choice but to continue to work for the foreseeable future. And, because Boomers are living during a period when medical science is going to continue to improve their ability to be healthy and work, that “foreseeable future” is a lot longer than anyone could have imagined!
As I’ve described in several articles in the past, that’s bad news for Generation X and Generation Y. The Fast Company article goes on to describe several scenarios that will only feed the frustration felt by the jobless Gen Ys and career-stalled Gen X.
Not only are the Boomers going to remain in the workplace but they are also going to retain their positions of authority…If they are forced out of their current employment positions, Baby Boomers will actively compete with the Millennials for other jobs!
And despite being recognized as “digital natives” and the “Internet Generation,” the advantage these young Gen Y adults may be dissipating with time. The fourth harsh reality describes
“…how the Technological Edge the Millennials touted as the differentiator between them and the other Generations in the workplace is diminishing as the other Generations, faced with no choice, close the technological gap. Boomers may never be able to text as fast as Millennials but they will be able to text fast enough for the workplace! And Boomers have the interpersonal skill set to go with the texting skill set!”
Putting the shrinking technology gap into perspective, one group wonders if the technology gap is myth or reality. The author says “I find that Millennial (Google Generation) students have the fastest thumbs in the west and can answer a cell phone call at the speed of light. Beyond this, their technology related skills, from an academic perspective, seem quite limited.”
This was also the topic of conversation before and during a panel discussion last week at Harrisburg University. While all the panelists agree that Generation Y are the most comfortable generation using technology, they may not be the most skilled at applying it in the workplace.
Of course, the more imminent impact of the recession and delayed departure of Baby Boomers will be felt by Generation X. Kinsley wrote in a forum response to his Atlantic article how “Gen-Xers are going to get screwed by [the entitlements and debt government is accumulating] even more than Boomers as the bills come in.”
And while the bills could be huge, the impact on society could be even bigger.
The U.S. Census Bureau released a report, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009, last week too. It revealed that that one in seven Americans are living in poverty. It also found that more than 8 percent of people between 25 and 34 (mostly Generation Y) are living with their parents.
Education is often prescribed as the solution to society’s ills and as the pathway to regaining our competitive position in the global marketplace. If the prescription is correct, then the patient is dying based on a new report, Yes We Can: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males 2010. Calling it a "national crisis," the report found that only 47 percent of black males graduated from high school in the 2007-2008 school year. And in New York City, the district with the nation's highest enrollment in African American students, only 28% percent of its African American males students receive a high school diploma.
Poverty and poor graduation rates are unlikely to significantly increase tensions between generational gaps in the workforce. But ignoring these problems will only add to the burden borne by future generations who will need to figure out ways to support millions of people who are unemployable.
In the short term, the longer unemployment remains high the more resentment will likely build between generations both in the workplace and in our communities.