Worst Ever Wealth Gap Between the Young and Old

According to a study reported by the Boston Globe, the wealth gap between older and younger Americans is the largest ever. “The typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35, according to an analysis of census data released Monday. While people typically accumulate assets as they age, this wealth gap is now more than double what it was in 2005 and nearly five times the 10-to-1 disparity a quarter-century ago, after adjusting for inflation.”

This study only measures financial wealth, and a full picture would be much worse for younger generations. For most of U.S. history younger generations were better educated than older generations as education expanded and improved, but this is no longer the case. You can blame the schools, or blame the fact that those now over 55 did a less good job of parenting, but education in this country has plateaued at best. Then there are the public debts, which older households ran up but won’t be around to pay back, since even now there is talk of tax cuts despite huge deficits. And the state of the infrastructure, previously improving but in recent decades deteriorating as the U.S. invests two percent of GDP, or about half the level of Europe. In Boston, the transit system is not only bankrupt (as in the New York area) but it is also falling apart. Finally there are public employee pensions in state and local government and old age benefits provided by the federal government. These were allowed to soar in cost without limit and were retroactively enhanced for older generations, but are being slashed for younger generations who will face poverty when they reach old age.

Are any members of Generation Greed, the generation that came of age in the 1950s and the first half of the baby boom that came of age in the 1960s, concerned about the future they are leaving behind? Are any of them ashamed? How about Generation Apathy, those who came after in the back end of the Baby Boom and in Gen X, generally disengaged from our public and private institutions, who left their own children worse off still? Do they care? Take you eyes off that TV screen!