Intergenerational Theft?

29 Oct

U.S. poverty, inequality is among the worst in the “developed” world.

According to a new report by a German research institute, the US lags behind most countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an organization that includes most of Europe, plus the US, Mexico, Chile, Japan, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. Among the 31 countries ranked in the study, the U.S. is in the bottom 5 for overall social justice, poverty prevention, child poverty rates, and income inequality.

But perhaps the most interesting thing revealed in this study is the generation gap in social spending and economic opportunity that most of us have intuited. The U.S. is in the bottom ten on senior citizen poverty rates–but is ranked even lower for child poverty rates, just above Mexico, Chile, and Turkey. Do we care more about old people than we do about kids? The U.S. is also in the bottom half when it comes to intergenerational justice, a measure of three components: family and pension policies, environmental protection, and the politico-economic conditions being established for future generations. As you can see from the charts below, the U.S. ranks 20th in intergenerational justice, just below the Czech Republic, and just above the poorest countries on the list. Greece is at the bottom.

A 2007 USA Today report reveals that behind the growing wealth gap lies a generation gap. The baby boom generation benefitted from an unprecedented growth in the welfare state that provided white workers a pipeline to a secure middle class lifestyle through access to quality, affordable higher education; subsidized housing loans; favorable tax policies; and support for middle class wages. But this bounty of government goodies has been slowly chipped away in the post-Civil Rights Era, as people of color and women have just begun to gain access to the benefits that had enriched whites, and especially white men.

Today’s young people are going into more debt so they can earn less. Politicians regularly re-assure baby-boomers that the government is determined to honor their social security benefits–but the next generation will have to accept less. At the same time that young workers are instructed to adjust their expectations downward, they are also required to pay into the Social Security and Medicare funds upon which the boomers who rail against “Obamacare” rely.

If current economic and policy trends continue, the baby-boomers will leave behind a society that is poorer, dirtier, and more unequal. These trends cannot be allowed to continue.


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