First the scorecard, derived from a number of sources regarding the breakdown of recent generations. Baby Boomers (born 1944-1964); Gen X (1965-1979); Millennials (1980-1994); Gen Z (1995-2015). Inter-generational labels and skirmishes are nothing new. Beatnik, hippie, yuppie and slacker are examples of naming that has occurred over the past 60 years.
Boomers, when young, either dealt with or fought segregated schools, lunch counters and courtrooms. Many Boomers protested for voter rights and civil rights, against both sexism and a war-time draft that disproportionately selected the economically disadvantaged of all colors. Just what are the Millennials, Xs and Zs facing that could be as important as “our” issues?
Younger people of all education levels face a very different economic landscape. Manufacturing jobs are disappearing and those that remain rarely pay middle-class wages. Our generation crushed many unions and allowed, or even encouraged, wages to stagnate while inflation rose. We have created and promoted automation of jobs ranging from secretary to truck driver to lower level management and many more. Companies and governments now often choose to contract out lower level and entry level jobs to temporary hire companies. This has greatly reduced upward mobility opportunities for millions of entry level workers. No longer can you work the company ladder from mail room or factory line to management. And how long will it be before the word “pension” only exists in games of historical trivia?
If you are a Millennial, an X or Z, you have seen Boomers blow up governmental debt to protect the already better off while disproportionately siphoning off Medicare and Social Security. We are living longer while younger workers’ paycheck deductions are having to support more retirees than we had to. I’m not going to discuss the ways that social media also stresses the younger generations. It is a reality that most Boomers likely can’t fully understand but we would be just as caught up in it if we had been born of a newer generation.
As a generation then, how should Boomers respond to an “OK, Boomer”? Are we going to be seasoned elders who show respect by listening before offering advice and empathy? Or will it be: “Well, we had to fight for ours so just buck up and quit whining.”
To the Millennials, Zs and Xs, are you going to continue to distrust institutions as a whole and let them wither? Or will you search for what needs to change and focus your growing economic and electoral power toward those ends? Millennials, Zs and Xs have forged a broad acceptance of races and sexual identities. Media ads now reflect inter-racial and gay families, workers and friends. Hallelujah and thank you.
So, my fellow Boomers, let’s soften the discourse among ourselves first. Recognize that those coming behind us are setting the table for their futures just as we did. If we get an “OK, Boomer” tossed our way now and then, be gracious. While we blazed and cleared many trails in our years, we also left plenty of obstructions that we shouldn’t have.