baby boomersBaby boomers were handed the American dream.

They entered the workforce at the beginning of an economic boom. Income tax rates dropped as their careers (and incomes) progressed. All while the Dow Jones industrial average soared more than 1,100%.

The Economist calls it a "demographic dividend" possible through a perfect storm of better education, a massive workforce (as a majority of women sought employment for the first time in history), and boomer-friendly legislation.

Yet according to one columnist for The Atlantic, they are also "statistically and generationally speaking, ... parasite[s]."

Robbing Their Own Cradles

With all due respect to boomers (which include both my parents), I agree.

As a group, boomers (partly through the politicians they elected) didn't just take full advantage of the successful economic times they lived in. They went well beyond their ample means, leaving their children and grandchildren with over $16 trillion in federal debt. Compared to just $228 billion when the first boomer was born, that's an increase of 7,018%.

And despite their demographic dividend, this debt may be their unfortunate economic legacy, especially considering how horrible they've been at saving. (The average savings of someone nearing retirement -- i.e., baby boomers -- is roughly just $100,000.)

No matter how you look at it (and even applying experts' top tips to maximize their Social Security payout), this won't be enough for most boomers to retire comfortably.

In other words, they'll be living a "faith-based retirement," according to Joe Nocera of The New York Times. Or they'll demand even larger retirement handouts from the government -- further crippling their progeny.

And the Worst Part Is ...

Generations X and Y don't have any way to get out from under this crippling debt.

The workforce can't grow like it did for boomers because the birth rate has fallen since 1957. Taxes can't feasibly continue dropping because of the high level of federal debt.

Even the stock market -- despite its recent bullish run -- will likely experience a sustained bear market as boomers cash in on what money they do have invested to fund their retirements.

Even the Government Can't Help

This is true because boomers are both more active voters and make up the bulk of the members of both chambers of Congress. With political power firmly in hand, they're not likely to do anything against their best interests.

Yet even if Generations X and Y were politically involved, what could they feasibly change?

The only real solution would be either a period of complete austerity (meaning an immediate 35% hike in taxes and a 35% drop in entitlement spending, according to the IMF) or a period of sustained inflation (which may be an effective tactic to lower the real value of the amount of the federal debt, according to The Economist).

But neither of these is easy to vote in favor of (or to elect politicians to implement), especially when both would inevitably impact these generations for the worse.

So what do you think: Have baby boomers doomed America forever? Or will Generations X and Y map out a comfortable path between austerity and innovation to reverse the trend and to hand their children a debt-free America?

Sound off in the comments section below.

This article was written by Motley Fool analyst Adam J. Wiederman. To read Adam's report on how to boost your Social Security payouts by as much as 76%, click here.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Investor’s Toolbox

Improve your investing savvy with the right financial toolset.

View Course »

What is Inflation?

Why do prices go up?

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

533 Comments

Filter by:
rkb8000

I agree with Bill Griggs that it is ridiculous to paint the entire generation with the same brush. Many of us, for example, are libertarians and quite opposed to the massive spending that created the problems presented.

The thing is, I've seen a great many of these "blame the boomers" articles lately, and I think it is propaganda. The political class knows that its exploitation systems will require that every third or fouth generation be sacrificed in order to maintain the profits generated by the systems. They have already decided that the boomers will be the sacrificial generation, and have set in motion a propaganda campaign to justify the actions they will soon take.

October 25 2012 at 11:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Thx4Fish

The retired boomers who lived and worked during the raiding of SS funds for general expenses now must rely on today's workers for their SS and Medicare. Good paying jobs would go a long way toward increasing revenues. Boomers have a lot of voting clout and could do a lot to help themselves maintain their standard of living by demanding our legislators protect American jobs and bring back enough manufacturing to sustain our country. It is both an economic and a national security issue. Ours is one of the few governments that doesn't protect its workers, but allows corporations to move any job overseas. It would be an act of self-preservation for retired people to take the issue of jobs seriously enough to act on it. Seniors your SS check depends on it!

October 25 2012 at 11:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bill Griggs

I think this is pure nonsense. Boomers get credit for things they didn't do and get blamed for things they didn't do. Let's go back to the Sixties. Who was leading the protests movements back then? It was mostly all people born before the Baby Boom. Were the musicians at Woodstock all Boomers? No, they were mostly all born before the boom. We're Boomers electing all the politicians back then? No, in the Sixties some Boomers weren't even born yet and most were too young to vote.

Most were too young to vote throughout much of the Seventies too, and even when they were all old enough to vote, not till 1982, they were still only a minority of the voting population and like young people today they were much less likely to vote than older people. They weren't electing the politicins bk then. They weren't choosing them anymore than we little people choose them today. The minority that voted generally went to the polls and voted for the lesser of too evils like we do today.

Look at the House and the Senate. They're full of ancient politicians. Only recently Boomers became the majority in both houses, but still it's older politicians who head up most of the powerful committies. Pre-Boomers are still the senior politicians for the most part who dictate the party line and set policy.

Things are changing. But Boomers are really just now taking over in our lawmaking bodies. Boomers are just now starting to become the elders of our society. The oldest is 66 now. The youngest is about to turn 48. The average age of committee heads in the House and Senate is I believe still 67. In the next few years Boomers will replace the old guard, and then we'll actually see what Boomers do.

I'm not a Boomer, but several people I went to school with are Boomers. I missed it by a few months, luckily, so I don't have to face the undeserved shame of being a Baby Boomer. It's just stupid. Boomers are individuals and they're all different. And Boomers born in 1964 are whole lot more like people born in 1965 and a few years later than like Boomers born in 1946 (who are a lot more like people born in the earlier 1940s). regardless of what year they were born, where they were born influences who they are and who they've been. Genetics and life's experiences make them all different. It's absolutely crazy to paint them all with a broad brush and blame them for so much people born before and after them did and for what some but not all Boomers did. It's just a damned made up label.

October 25 2012 at 11:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
BR

The baby boomer generation is the mindless generation. People had as many babies as they could, whether they were equipped financially and psychologically or not. Many baby boomers were lousy, dysfunctional parents and produced the dysfunctional adult wounded children that are currently at the helm of society.

It will be necessary for humans to limit population size in the very near future as in 50 years, humans will oustrip Earth's ability to provide them with basic resources. Water will become scarce in 5-10 years or less and WW3 will break out over water rights. The baby boomers brought us Dick Nixon, 2 failed Bush presidencies, huge economic recession under Reagan, and the pie in the sky credit driven economy that collapsed all around Bush prior to Obama being elected.

Indeed the legacy of the selfish, low IQ, unconscious baby boomers is a planet stripped of resources and a country populated by dysfunctional adult wounded children; not to mention an entire country in shambles.

October 25 2012 at 10:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
JB

As a 20 year old, I couldn't agree more. I don't expect to have Social Security or Medicare when I retire, because the funds won't be there. However, you can count on me paying 12% of my income every year to support current retirees who couldn't be bothered to save more in their lives. That's assuming I find a job- the Boomers' financial deregulation binge in the 90s didn't really do me any good in terms of job prospects. Oh, might I mention the need for drastically higher taxes on my already meager income to pay off their $16 trillion in debt- splendid! And what happens when I bring up these concerns- I get called a spoiled and entitled young man, despite the fact that I go to college and work part time over 80 hours a week.

October 25 2012 at 10:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
persuter

There's an easy way for our generation to get out from under this crippling debt... and it was actually quite popular among the Boomer generation. Have you ever seen the movie Logan's Run?

October 25 2012 at 10:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Trisha

This article is typical of the mentality of today's generation. Never in my 65 years of living have I ever seen a 'people' so engrossed in their own selfish interests and attitude of 'gimme- I deserve it' than the generation today, and of placing the blame for anything that is wrong on others. A good patsy for the woes of today is of course, the older generation. Never, for one minute, do any of these 'blame-casters' take a look at their own lives and the greed that breeds within themselves.
You want to blame us ( the old folks ) for what you yourselves perceive as waste in our gereration? Let me tell you something, you selfish spoiled little snot! Our generation knew what hard work and making every toe dig meant. As kids, we worked chores and learned the value of a nickle. ( A dollar was a lot of money! ) We washed and recylced glass soda bottles. We shared a bicycle with brothers and sisters - if we were lucky enough to have one. We helped with the gardening and harvesting of the produce, and the canning and preserving that went with this summer ritual. We helped our mothers with the 'sweeping and the mopping' (of worn linolium floors) and often lived in very small homes that we were grateful for. Seldom did we have air-conditioning, and in my case - went 'out-back' for the 'facilities' - hauled water for the bath - heating it on the kitchen stove, washed dishes in 'dish-pans' filled with hauled water - wore hand-me-down clothes and were glad for a new pair of shoes. We had one family car, usually a used one, and patched tires until they could be patched no more. If there was a phone, there was only one.
We respected our parents and learned the golden rule. We respected our teachers and did our homework. We stood proudly at the raising of the flag and held our hands over our hearts. We were glad to be in the land of the free and our soldiers fought with pride and courage, knowing a country was behind them.
When we married, we did not go searching for the perfect home. We rented what we could, and saved for the home for a later date. We made do with used furniture - or none - until we could buy it.
Today I see a generation that expects it all at once. The big house, the two NEW cars, the fancy furniture, the cell phones and ipads, the boat, the fancy clothes and epensive dining out. Need I go on and on???
Today I see too many people expecting others to hand it all to them. A demanding lot that has lost sight of what is right and wrong, of what hard work means, of God and country, of intelligence and real character.
God help you all, even if you don't believe in Him. You are so blind to your own ignorance and arrogance that I doubt any amount of writing will make a dent in your warped minds.

October 25 2012 at 10:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Trisha's comment
Matt C

No, you didn't! That's the whole point! There is statistical evidence that you screwed all of us over and now you're spouting trite platitudes about the value of a dollar.

October 25 2012 at 11:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rkb8000

I am a "Boomer" (at least statistically speaking), and I recommend that generations X and Y simply refuse to pay. And yes, I said "simply" and I mean it. The problem is not as complex as the politicians would have you believe, and neither is the solution. Don't pay the debt. Its not yours to pay. Vote for politicians who will decrease taxes .and. cut spending. This whole concept of an "intergenerational" contract is nonsense. You know that now - so end it.

October 25 2012 at 9:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rkb8000's comment
Bill Griggs

Rkb8000, if we don't pay, we go to jail. And it's not really so much of an intergenerational contract as it is a deal between the US government and those who paid into the system on the promise that they would get their Social Security and Medicaid when they get old. It's something they've earned and I would think are legally entitled to it.

October 25 2012 at 11:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Bill Griggs's comment
rkb8000

To be precise, contributions to these programs are investments in a political entitlement system, and like all investments, a loss is quite possible.

October 25 2012 at 11:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
greg1f00

In the recent past, it has become popular for today's media to publish more and more of these "social stress" articles in order to gauge the public's reaction (in today's society).

Who is it that wants these social chaos articles to be taken seriously?. Certainly, today's youth wouldn't need an good excuse to go ahead and cause strife/resentment against the older generation, but I think the motivational forces behind these attempts at social unrest/disunity is more covert.

October 25 2012 at 3:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tony

An interesting thesis.... but it ignored several programs and events initiated in other time periods by other generations. Perhaps the greatest fault of any generation is the tendency to perpetuate the mistakes of the previous generations. Unfortunately, the Baby Boomers made the mistake of following the lead of the Greatest Generation, who severely accelerated the programs of motor vehicle overuse and extensive suburbanization, which would prove expensive economic, social, and ecological disasters for the United States. In pushing these two programs, the myriad effects went unheeded and ignored even though they had become evident by the time the Baby Boomers took power. Even in this they can be accused of little more than being typically human, as the people who attempted to "Do The Right Thing" invariably suffered socially and financially. Since few humans will ever act against their perceived best interests, even if it means long-term gain, they proceded along the path laid down by prior generations. The irony is that is is now "unAmerican and a communistic" to not buy into automotive transport, despite that fact that many of the transportation networks they supplanted (streetcars and commuter railroads) were privately funded and privately operated on a for-profit basis by companies and individuals. By the start of the Greatest Generation's reign, America as a whole was paying five to six times more for an effective, efficient transport network than should have been necessary. At the end the programs they initiated had ballooned that cost to twenty times needed, and now the government was now funding and operating transporation networks in government's typically ham-handed way. Because these programs invariably got out of control (and are even more so, now) America as a country may be paying as much as a hundred times more than we need to for transport (counting social, economic, and ecological costs). The problem is Generations X (my generation) and Y have demonstrated no substantial improvement in using technology and resources wisely. Also, the further we progress, the more dangerous it becomes for those who do not adhere to the norm, making individual humans even less motivated to alter their behavior. In a supreme irony, many American humans now subscribe to the belief that "more is better"-- more space, more technology, more toys, more food, more power.... Another way of phrasing that cherished belief is "Quantity has a quality all its own" uttered by Soviet human leaders Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin. Thus, in an insidiously perverse way the Right-Wing Americans are correct--America HAS de facto become a communist country. What they fail to realize is they share the burden for this debacle with their arch-enemy, the Left-Wing Americans. The house is divided against itself, and will not stand.

October 23 2012 at 11:52 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply