David Phillips: Every generation has its challenges

David Phillips
Reflections from my Notebook

As if the United States needs anything more to divide us, a new putdown, “OK, boomer,” has become popular among the millennial generation. In popular culture, it has led to a battle between generations, pitting baby boomers, who range in age from 54 to 72, against millennials, who range in age from 22 to 37.

The battle hasn’t hit home in our communities because the generations seem to work well together here and there is less divisiveness in general due to our smaller scale of community that leads to more personal interaction.

However, it’s not surprising there is a backlash from the younger generation when they hear some of the things baby boomers say, especially those who assume their generation is the all-knowing authority on society. With such rapid social change lately, some of their comments sound ancient or, worse yet, dismissive of many people.

Yet, for millennials to stereotype a whole generation is also dismissive. Worse yet, it doesn’t lead to an attempt at helping people of another age understand a different point of view.

Of course, it isn’t just millennials who stereotype. While the “OK, boomer” phrase might not be common here, it wouldn’t be unusual to hear putdowns of the younger generation by boomers. Those elder residents often complain young adults have no work ethic, they are entitled, they are self-absorbed, they are oversensitive or they don’t know how to socialize because they are constantly interacting with screens.

Yes, some of those traits are apparent, but it is dismissive to stereotype an entire generation because there are plenty of hard working, social young people.

While baby boomers always had to hear from the generation before them about how much harder life was in the olden days, boomers can’t really say the same thing to younger generations. That’s because it seems as if life is harder for the generations coming up rather than the other way around.

It’s not just social factors, such as growing up with the constant threat of mass shootings in schools and other places thought to be safe; there is a financial component that may be hard for boomers to grasp.

For example, most baby boomers didn’t leave college looking at years of debt. College tuition has risen 260 percent since 1980 to 2014 while the consumer price index has risen just 120 percent. The average annual tuition for public colleges was just $1,490 in the late 1980s, or $3,190 in today’s dollars, which compares to a price tag of $9,970 for current college students.

Broken down in another way, baby boomers could have paid for four years of college working 306 hours at a minimum wage job, adjusted for inflation. Millennials have to work an average of 4,459 hours in comparison.

When millennials start a family, they are also confronted with more day care expenses. A report in by the U.S. Census Bureau shows average weekly child care costs increased to $143 in 2011 from $84 as recently as 1985. Even more recently, annual costs have risen nearly twice as much as the rate of inflation since the 2008 recession.

Child care and pre-college education now make up 18 percent of the total cost of raising a kid, compared to 2 percent in 1960, according to a Washington Post report.

Another added cost is health insurance. Even though the Affordable Care Act allows young people to stay on their parents’ health insurance until they are 26, when they go off those policies, they face higher health insurance costs than their parents did at the same age, even if their employer is partially paying the premiums. Just in the last five years, the amount of money the average worker shells out for family health insurance has increased from 27 percent to 30 percent of the total cost.

Going further back, the average annual health insurance cost per person in 1960 was $146, according to a CNBC report. In 2016, it hit $10,345, nine times as high when adjusted for inflation. Costs are expected to increase to $14,944 in 2023.

Housing cost is another area that has risen faster than incomes. Decades ago, 45 percent of baby boomers bought their first home between the ages of 25 and 34. Today, only 37 percent of millennials between the ages of 25 and 34 own homes.

It isn’t just the student loan debt and ballooning cost of living that is holding younger people back. Since baby boomers are living longer and healthier lives, they are staying in their homes much longer, leading to historic lows in housing inventory.

An alternative to existing homes is new housing, which, even in small towns with the label “affordable” attached to it, has price tags close to $300,000. That really isn’t affordable for young people starting their journey into adult life.

Every generation has its challenges and baby boomers can point to difficulties their generation has faced — the threat of nuclear annihilation, a more glaring lack of equality for many groups, assassinations and other issues that seem distant now.

Dividing people into stereotypical generations and judging people in these contrived groups isn’t helpful. In reality, we have more in common with each other than the differences in age would indicate.

There are positive and negative individuals in any generation. There will always be some people who want to dismiss people of a specific age with one phrase or description. However, that kind of insult points to an insecurity of a particular individual more than anything relevant about the status of an entire generation.