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    Baby Boom Goes the Dynamite: The Generation's Lasting Legacy

    The Baby Boomers have blown it in spectacular fashion.

    For much of the past 20 years, they have been the ones in charge of this country. During that time, they have...

    ... ignored the looming Social Security crisis, which has been simmering for decades and is now apparently coming to a boiling point much quicker than originally estimated.

    ... ignored the looming health care crisis, fighting alongside the dangerously powerful AARP lobby for small benefits like cheaper drugs while letting the larger issues of increasing system-wide costs and underfunded Medicare obligations spiral out of control.

    ... ignored the looming global warming crisis, choosing to go to war to maintain their reliance on cheap foreign oil rather than seriously pursue alternative energy sources.

    ... ignored the looming credit crisis, living further and further beyond their means, indulging in unbridled consumerism and rampant asset speculation.

    So is it any surprise, really, that their solution to our country's current economic crisis has been to saddle future generations of Americans with even more crippling debt, making it even harder for us to solve the numerous other looming disasters we face because of their neglect??

    I had strong hopes that the election of Barack Obama - one of the last of the Baby Boomers - would lead to a change in Washington, to a recognition that there was too much at stake to play the same silly political games and to keep ignoring the spreading cracks in the foundation of the American empire. But mostly, it's been more of the same.

    Instead of trying to repent for their profligate and selfish ways, the Baby Boomers have decided to cement their legacy by throwing one last Hail Mary of Irresponsibility, in the form of trillions of dollars of tax cuts and stimulus plans and bailout packages, in hopes of putting off the ultimate day of reckoning a little bit longer.

    Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that said 'The Buck Stops Here.' Unfortunately, I think the Baby Boom generation took that to mean it should then pocket the buck.

    It wasn't always that way. For a while, the Baby Boomers bettered our world. They fought for progress, for peace, for women's rights, for civil rights. In business and in culture, they created and innovated, producing a tremendous amount of national wealth and prosperity. To be honest, the past 40 years have in many ways been an exciting and fruitful period for America. But somewhere along the way, the Baby Boom generation stopped thinking about the future of the country and started looking out only for its own best interests (Was it a cynicism and selfishness borne out of Watergate and other historical events or just out of normal human nature?)

    It's easy to overgeneralize about a generation, of course, and probably somewhat unfair. These are our moms and dads, after all, and it's tough to fault them individually for the damage they've wrought.

    It is in fact quite painful to watch as our parents finally reach the tantalizing edge of retirement only to find that their IRAs and 401Ks have been decimated and that idyllic, restful ride off into the sunset postponed, perhaps indefinitely.

    Painful and tragic, yes, but also in some ways justified. Collectively, the Baby Boom generation is merely reaping what it has sown.

    Unfortunately, for the rest of us, the prospects are even dimmer. The field now lies fallow.


    You heard it here first, ladies and gentlemen, the bugle call of the coming generational war. You think it's bad now? Just wait until FICA taxes no longer cover SS payments, and everyone starts squabbling about the money. Those baby boomers are will mobilize their legions of politically active retirees, and there won't be no touching that Social Security entitlement. Meanwhile, the check will be coming from everyone else's salary, and Generation Xers and Yers and Wheverers will get all self-righteous about how those selfish, imprudent boomers frittered away all the money. (See above post.) Unlike us, right? We GenXers have all been saving our pennies and caring aggressively about future generations. See, we recycle!

    OK, I know it's not entirerly fair to blame the boomers for our problems. i actually don't think they're any more or less selfish than any other group of Americans, and us Xers obviously haven't done much better. But they've been the ones in charge, and I do think collectively they dropped the ball on being responsible stewards of our economy, our environment and our future. It's just a bit odd that it all started off so much more promising.

    i can't quite tell what in your comment is ironic and mocking and what isn't, but I definitely think the generational battles will intensify.

    Only the last bit about the GenXers was ironic, but the whole comment was mocking. ;) In any case I agree that the generational battles will get worse. Boomers will behave like seniors have been since the inception of SS--fighting hard to maintain their benefits. We'll be no different when we retire. If there are any benefits left, that is.

    Does Obama really qualify as a Boomer?  I thought he was Generation Jones.  He's not really old enough to have been a father to Generation X.

    well, there is some debate about what the qualifying years are for being a boomer, but most of the definitions include the 1946-1964 time frame, making the 1961-born Obama eligible.

    Interesting article, Deadman. But Obama is not a Boomer, and only very few prominent voices anywhere have said he is a Boomer. By contrast, many influential voices have repeatedly said that Obama is part of Generation Jones, born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Generation X. Google Generation Jones, and you'll see it’s gotten a ton of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) specifically use this term to describe Obama.

    It is important to distinguish between the post-WWII demographic boom in births vs. the cultural generations born during that era. Generations are a function of the common formative experiences of its members, not the fertility rates of its parents. Many experts now believe it breaks down this way:

    DEMOGRAPHIC boom in babies: 1946-1964

    Baby Boom GENERATION: 1942-1953

    Generation Jones: 1954-1965

    Generation X: 1966-1978

    Here's a 5 minute video with over 20 top political figures discussing Obama's identity as a GenJoneser:

    Here is a recent op-ed about Obama as the first GenJones President in USA TODAY:

    thanks for the comment. honestly, i wasn't too aware of the generation jones moniker, but i can certainly buy that obama's experiences are quite different than your traditional boomers.

    however, i do believe that in general 18-20 years qualifies as a generation, and though your man Pontell seems to have a good job of selling and spreading the Jones label, I don't think it's necessary to subdivide a generation into smaller groups even if the formative experiences are a bit different for different people within that age range.

    in any case, whether obama is a boomer or a joneser, I don't think it negates the point of the article, except that it perhaps gives me even more hope that the obama team can move beyond some of the ideological limitations of the boomer generation that pontell referenced in the USA Today article and really work on addressing some of these important long-term issues.

    by the way, obviously, generational labels generally aren't very precise in any case. My mom and dad are pre-Boomers, but they still were in college during the 1960s so they share some of the same attitudes and experiences of the Boomers.

    Why 18 years?  In terms of the numbers, all of this seems a bit odd to me.  People are discrete, but birth rates can be represented continuously.  However, we then turnaround and pick a figure, maybe 18 years, to put them back into a seemingly discrete group.  But isn't this arbitrary?

    These represent attempts to identify a generation by quantity, but they're poor attempts IMHO.  Examining the formative experiences of a generation allows for qualitative identification, which seems far more appropriate in this case.  If there's nothing cohesive about the shared experiences of a generation, then why bother talking about it in the first place?

    My parents are solidly Boomers.  They were old enough (and young enough) to be the right age for the British Invasion, Woodstock, Vietnam, the sexual revolution, etc.  Obama wasn't old enough to really experience any of these events.  In 1969, he turned eight years old.  In 1975, when the Vietnam War ended, he turned 14.  By contrast, my father had a draft card.  Both of our last two Presidents, though they didn't go, were eligible.

    So, we could stick Obama in the same group because we've married ourselves (at least somewhat arbitrarily IMHO) to a number, but does that really tell us anything about him or about generational membership in general?  I don't think so.

    FWIW, I share you sentiment here to a certain extent.  I've even had similar conversations with my mom.  It's definitely easy, from my perspective, to look at the Boomers as a generation that started with much idealism, but ended up as self-indulgent as any that came before.  I think that there's some truth to this narrative, but I also recognize that it's easy to point the finger.

    Even so, I think that the legacy of the Boomers is pretty well written at this point, at least if we're primarily talking about their time at the wheel.  They're still highly influential in the Congress, and will continue to be for a while longer, but it seems unlikely that we'll see another Boomer President.  Is Obama the last Boomer President or the first post-Boomer President?  Rather than focusing on his age, perhaps the answer lies in determining whether his presidency has more to do with answering the question of what the Boomer legacy is or what the beginning of the next era will look like.  Personally, I believe he is much more closely related to the latter question than the former.

    Finally, I think it's important to note that casting aspersions on the Boomers, which may be due, significantly raises the bar for we who must follow them.

    How does one become an expert an generational segmentation?

    I don't know but I'm interested in applying. Like i said last year, I really want to trademark The Twitter Generation to describe our current batch of teenagers. it fits so perfectly (I dont know if they've already acquired the Gen Y moniker, but that's a lame one anyway).

    You can't just park a registered trademark like a domain name or a patent. You have to actually use it in commerce. You can register an intent to use a trademark to secure the filing date, but it expires after six months.

    So maybe it's time to start selling Twitter Generation coffee mugs. Of course, you might run into some legal trouble with Twitter for trademark infringement.

    I don't there's much value to bashing baby boomers. Boomers are as mixed in character as any generation.

    The direction of the country goes with the political party in charge. Everyone votes for the president and members of congress, so we are the government and we get the quality of officials that we elect. The George W. Bush years are an example of that. I think that the corruption of his administration will continue to be revealed.

    I think the generations need to work together in the workplace and in government to being people together and to move the country forward. Generatin wrangling doesn't solve anything.

    As for how baby boomers are defined, it's being born between 1946 and 1964. President Obama is a baby boomer, although he has said that he doesn't consider himself a boomer. Michelle Obama is a baby boomer, too.


    as i said, generational labels and characterizations are probably by their very nature somewhat unfair. I guess I just find it a bit disappointing that the Baby Boomers started out as such a progressive, dynamic group and then collectively pretty much dropped the ball looking out for their own narrow interests (again, obviously plenty of exceptions to the rule, but overall they just passed the buck too often).

    I have to tell you that I really work hard to prevent myself from getting worked up about the entitlement mentality of the Boomers.  It is tough when you have 100K in student loans (that your parents didn't have), you have to dedicate 10-15% of your salary to 410K contributions (your parents had pensions), you have to pay $25K to send 2 kids to daycare for a year (your parents had a chance of having one person work - almost impossible today), you have to save $10K/year/kid for any meager HOPE of paying for a fraction of their education, your healthcare premiums eat up 5% of your salary or more...I could go on and on, but suffice it to say it's tough out there and it's only going to get worse. 

    And the Boomers have this unbelievable "I deserve it...I paid for it..." mentality with absoutely no basis in fact.  They paid for the previous generation - That's something that needs clarification - The social security system was NEVER designed as a savings plan - the current generation pays for the previous.  The "Boomers" paid for "The Greatest Generation" - and they did so with a ratio of about 14 Boomers to 1 Retiree.   If they didn’t feel it was fair at the time, they should have said so.  But the pinch was almost nothing b/c the ratios were so low…not so anymore.   All the excess was NOT saved - it was spent on guess who?  THE BOOMERS.  And why was that?  Because the Boomers wanted it and they elected EVERY politician since the day I was born!  If I hear one more Boomer whine about the fact that the govt pillaged their SS money, I’m gonna puke.  You live in a representative democracy…accept some collective responsibility for YOUR collective decisions!

    I agree however, that these are our parents.  Here’s the thing, though…While I don’t want to be cruel or rob them of a retirement I don’t want to trade winters in FL for them for my own destitution in old age…and that’s what the trade-off may very well be.  We are staring down the barrel of a HUGE PROBLEM.  I am NOT unwilling to do what’s needed to spare my kids, but it seems that the Boomers look at the facts and shrug them off, saying, “I don’t care…I paid my dues and I want mine!”  It’s like a 3-year old refusing to look at the logic of a problem and repeating over and over some illogical mantra.  We all (ALL GENERATIONS) need to work together to look HONESTLY at the issue and decide on a solution that’s fair to all and doesn’t sacrifice one generation for the other…which is what is happening now.

    i agree. good luck getting any substantive reform accomplished with AARP as powerful as it is however. The only ways significant changes will happen i fear is if we're staring down the barrel of a gun - scratch that, we are staring down a barrel of a gun right now so my guess is change won't happen til we take a bullet.

    and social security SHOULD have been designed as a savings plan, where people put in money for their own use in later years. Of course, that was close to unfeasible since it would have taken many years to fund social security to the point where it would be useful.

    As it stands now, assuming shifting population trends, it's basically a ponzi scheme that works only when the current generation of workers is large enough to support the retired folks. and the tragic part is how we have tried to mask the liabilities from social security by moving them off budget. As large as our deficit looks now, it'd look almost twice as big if we included the actual present value of future liabilities from social security. of course, theoretically, the government could curtail or stop those payments at any time, but we know how likely that is.

    Technically, I am not a Boomer. When I was born, Adolf Hitler still ruled Europe and no atomic bombs had been dropped. So I'm a member of the previous generation, whatever the hell its name was.

    Did it in fact have a name? The only identifying cultural feature I recall was that teenage girls wore crinolines under their dresses. And the facial hair I grew in college led relatives to call me a beatnik, not a hippie. Culturally, however, I embraced the ethos of the coming generation: peace protests, pot, rock music, rebellion. San Francisco. Woodstock.

    So let me state unequivocally: In no way is Barack Obama a Boomer. For one thing, I am old enough to have fathered him. More crucially, he was born too late to experience the assassination of JFK. Yes, he would have been vaguely aware of the deaths of RFK and MLK, but -- coming afterward -- they did not carry the same cultural shock. What shaped the Boomer mentality was a childhood that promised prosperity, hope and security, and a world event that exposed it all as a deception. What followed were years of war, riot and political instability.

    Generation Jones may have gotten the tail end of that, but to call yourself a Boomer you had to be sitting in a classroom as the teacher announced the president had been shot. Disillusionment led some into revolution or political action, some into self-indulgence, greed and political apathy. But disillusionment was the common thread.

    On the actual topic of entitlement and Social Security, it's interesting that the States came early to the concept, under the New Deal, got the funding wrong, made it worse lumping it in with the general budget, and now lacks the political will and resources to fix it. Canada got around to creating a mandatory pension plan only in 1965, but set up the fund as a stand-alone entity, basically free from government meddling. It's not fully funded, but should be financially sound through most of this century. Payroll contributions are just under 5 per cent for both workers and employers.

    To me, it's obvious that Obama is a member of Generation Jones. You don't have to be an expert in generations to realize this guy really isn't a Boomer nor is he a Generation X'er. I was born in 1961, the same year as Obama, and from the first time I heard about Generation Jones, I intuitively knew that's where I fit.


    I think it's very telling that people my age apparently strongly agree: Third Age did a poll of this specific question with a nationally representative poll of 500 people born in 1961, who resoundingly self-identified as GenJonesers, not Boomers or X'ers.


    The differences between Boomers and Jonesers aren't small. They are quite dramatic. Look, for example, at how these two generations vote. Boomers are usually the most Dem-voting generation, while Jonesers are usually the most GOP-voting generation. How could it make sense to lump together the two opposite generations in the electorate?

    Oh, and generations aren't really considered 18-20 years anymore. From what I've read, the general thinking among experts is that generations are shorter now, partly because of the acceleration of culture. Most analysts now say generations are approximately 10 to 15 years. I'm talking here about cultural generations (familial generations are still around 20 to 25 years because that's around the age that most people reproduce).

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