Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Lowering the boom on the baby boomers

Appearances to the contrary, Americans have less mobility, economically and physically, plus more stress, worse health, and way too many Doritos.

Appearances to the contrary, Americans have less mobility, economically and physically, plus more stress, worse health, and way too many Doritos.

Everything we thought was good is actually going quite poorly for us.

In Christopher Buckley's latest satire, Boomsday, the aptly named blogger Cassandra Devine, 30, suggests that members of the baby boom, upon reaching retirement age, generously off themselves to resuscitate the moribund Social Security system.

It's suicide as a form of payback, and government paycheck, for Generations X,Y, and W (for Whatever) who love the boomers so.

Of course, Buckley's book is fiction, foremost in the assumption that the baby boomers will ever retire.

It's quite possible that AARP, as an acronym, will become a cruel joke. All those granny farms, ringing the exurbs like so many elastic-waist pants, will have significant vacancies while many middle agers, enjoying the blessings of stagnant incomes coupled with skyrocketing college and medical bills, will have to be body bagged out of their cubicles.

In a double whammy this week, the Inquirer's Paul Nussbaum meticulously explained how technology hasn't set us free. It's slowed us down, taking longer to get anywhere, as any trip from the airport or along the expressway amply reveals.

We spend a lot of time getting nowhere fast. "Are we there yet?" becomes a quixotic notion when you can't get off the runway.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post's Rob Stein reports that, despite profound breakthroughs in health care, the initial group of baby boomers contemplating retirement "may be the first generation to enter their golden years in worse health than their parents."

This is due, in part, to the Grand Canyon schism between the Educated Haves and the Poor Have-Nots - the most important Have being adequate health insurance - but it's not that simple.

There's more stress reported in daily living, understandable given the volatile job market, stagnant incomes and soaring education and medical costs, all of which seemed more affordable a generation earlier. Plus, there's skyrocketing personal debt, with so many people trying to keep their heads above water, especially the 47 million Americans without health insurance.

More people are suffering from increased cholesterol, blood pressure and obesity. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight, due to sedentary lifestyles at desk jobs, vending-machine gastronomy, and all that time stuck on expressways.

We also have better detection for long-term diseases, which means we get bad news earlier and live with it longer.

"If people are entering early old age in worse health, it doesn't bode well for society," the National Institute on Aging's Richard Suzman told Stein.

No, it does not.

Life is measured not only in length but quality. I would argue for visits to beautiful places, be it the park or Buenos Aires, and far away from cubicles facing brick walls, near vending machines and half a block from natural light, not that I base this on personal experience.

If someone lives to, say, 90, but in wretched health, with substandard care and limited mobility, it's a Pyrrhic victory.

If we work, and work, and never go anywhere or get anywhere we want to go, and save money only to sign it over to the country's richest nonprofit institutions, universities and medical centers, then perhaps we're failing at this pursuit of happiness business.

Social security takes on a whole different meaning when stress, poor health and debt dominate. Our leaders, and would-be leaders, need to rethink what's necessary for better lives - issues that cut across race, age, gender, class and those tired red-blue models. Long-term well-being can go bankrupt in more ways than purely financial.