On-Deck Generation

Policy initiatives have a way of bringing up issues other than the ones they’re intended to address. President George W. Bush’s proposal to restructure Social Security–some pronounce “restructure” as “reform” or “destroy”–is a case in point.

While the stated intent is to make the system fiscally sustainable, the plan’s unintended consequences may include reminding more than a few Americans of their limited earnings and savings potential, and of how some of those limits are not of their own making. Such as when they were born.

One segment of the population could weigh in on Social Security and other intergenerational issues in interesting and possibly surprising ways. This group, born from 1960 to 1970, could be called the “On-Deck Generation” (ODG). Those of us born in the first years of that range are usually tacked on to the tail end of the Baby Boom, but we can’t relate. Not only we were not conceived at Woodstock, we can barely conceive of Woodstock. By the time we reached adolescence the dark side of the drug culture was obvious. The younger part of this group represents the beginning of the “Baby Bust, ” but they came too soon, though, to be members of “Generation X” or knit-capped “slackers.”

What everyone in this group has in common, though, is a sense of being overshadowed by generations with more distinct styles, and of waiting until quite recently to get our turn at bat.

After high school or college, many of us took jobs that we were overqualified for, without benefits or security, because Boomers with less training had gotten the good jobs first, and they weren’t giving up the office keys any time soon. Academia was even worse: professors with only a handful of publications received tenure and held onto it with a death grip, while On-Deck PhDs with more publications patch together part-time teaching gigs. The entry-level jobs that opened up in the second half of the 1990s largely went to the Boomers’ children, the “Echo” generation, who did not have to explain resume gaps or periods of underemployment; these jobs included dot-com positions where liberal arts majors made $50,000, or more, right out of college. Relatively few ODGs experienced the tech boom hangover, but we didn’t get to attend the party, either.

This may sounds bitter, and it is. If we watch The Big Chill from time to time, it is to see Boomers who started out with big ideals and huge pretensions end up self-loathing, if prosperous. I know one ODG who plans to invest in funerary supplies to profit from the deaths of those who have delayed his professional progress.

Now that ODGs are finally getting to swing the bat, it is time, or past time, to start saving for retirement. And we don’t have a huge margin of error.  In the face of an assault on Social Security as we know it—or an unthinking defense of it—we can only afford to be skeptical.


By: J.D. Smith

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