Get with the Times, Baby Boomers

William Frey, Washington Post, June 8, 2012

Long associated in the popular mind with social and political change, the baby boomers are about to confront the biggest change in the American fabric in their lifetimes: our country’s new demographics. And they’re not ready.

Recent census numbers show that white babies are, for the first time, a minority of all births, putting an exclamation point on a trend that has been building for decades. {snip}

It is this diverse youth population that the largely white baby boomers will rely upon in their retirement years to keep paying into Social Security and Medicare.

Yet a Pew Research Center survey published in November showed only 23 percent of baby boomers regard the country’s growing population of immigrants as a change for the better. Forty-three percent saw it as a change for the worse. Almost half of white boomers said the growing number of newcomers from other countries represented a threat to traditional U.S. customs and values.

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What’s emerging is a cultural gap between the largest generation and the youngest.

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Boomers were born to parents whose upward mobility was aided by sweeping public programs such as the GI Bill. They benefitted from a wide array of programs supporting higher education and became a highly educated generation. Still, this generation—which will swell the ranks of senior citizens in the coming years—seems to be having trouble letting go, showing more than a little antipathy toward today’s diverse, younger Americans.

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The 2010 Census told us we would have faced an absolute decade-long decline in our under-18 population, had it not been for the gain of 5.5 million Hispanic and Asian youths. Between now and 2030, there will be an absolute decline of 10 million (mostly baby-boom) whites from the ranks of our working-age population.

Those ranks can be replenished only by the growing minority youth population. Much of this growth will occur because of births, regardless of immigration trends.

The contributions these people make will depend heavily on the opportunities they receive, particularly through education. {snip}

Advancement of our young people into middle-class jobs at all skill levels is essential to future economic growth. That growth is, in turn, essential to our country’s ability to provide opportunities and social supports. Absent these investments, we are looking at a society whose members will be fighting over pieces of a shrinking pie.

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