“Dear Millennials,” proclaims Frank Bruni in a June 7 op-ed in the New York Times, “we’re sorry.” He then proceeds to another oh-so-familiar round of generational mea culpa, concluding, “We conveniently overlook how much more they’ve had to pay for college than we did, the loans they’ve racked up and the fact that nothing explains their employment difficulties better than a generally crummy economy, which certainly isn’t their fault.They get our derision when they deserve our compassion and a political selflessness we’ve been unable to muster. While we’re at it, we might even want to murmur an apology.”
I’m not suggesting that the problems he enumerates are illusory. And he’s certainly correct that the Millennials did nothing to bring on the “generally crummy economy.” But the idea that the older generations owe an apology is idiotic. Mr. Bruni seems utterly unaware of the fact that the older generations are largely paying the freight for the disadvantaged Millennials. He posits a view of the aging population — no longer contributing to the economy, takers of scarce government funds that would be better deployed elsewhere – that is at least a decade out of date.
Here are some key facts (see p. 173-174 of my book, Beyond Age Rage, for more detail and for sources) that Mr. Bruni omits. Does he know them and chooses not to offer them? Does he not know them in the first place?
– 6 out of 10 Baby Boomers are providing financial support to adult children, with an average amount of close to $4,000 a year
– At the same time, 10% of Boomers are also providing financial support to their aging parents while also trying to manage their own looming retirement
– Of those helping their adult children
– 50% are providing housing
– 48% are helping with living expenses
– 41% are helping with transportation costs
– 35% are subsidizing insurance coverage
– 29% are providing spending money
– 28% are paying medical bills
– One in five Baby Boomers report having paid a college loan, or co-signed such a loan.
What’s more, the “older generations” are not all net takers. As I have reported frequently in this blog, they are not retiring on schedule and they are still contributing a large share of income taxes raised by the federal government. Consider these facts:
– According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, just under 7 million Americans over the age of 65 are still employed
– A 2013 survey by AP/NORC Center for Public Affairs puts the figure even higher, if you include working and being “retired” at the same time. According to that survey, 13% of the 65+ population are still working, a further 8% are working in retirement, and 3% are looking for work. That adds up to nearly 10 million people.
– And the trend will only get stronger. A 2012 survey by TransAmerica Retirement Services found that only 19% of workers now in their 50s and 60s do not plan to work after the traditional retirement age of 65.
– As a consequence, the “older” generation is still paying income taxes. In fact, they contribute a majority of all tax dollars collected – and the percentage has been growing since 1997.
– In 1997, the under-45 age groups combined contributed 38% of all income taxes paid, while the over-45 group contributed 62%. By 2011, the under-45 group was contributing just over 25%, while the over-45 group now contributed 74% of all income taxes.
But maybe you think I’m cheating by lumping 65+ in with the 45-65-year-olds. Okay, let’s look at the 65+ group alone. And since we’re narrowing it at the older end, let’s do the same at the younger end and compare them with the 18-35 age group — the group that Mr. Bruni is worrying so much about today.
– In 1997, the 18-35 age group contributed just under 15% of all income taxes, while the 65+ was right at 15%. Call it a tie. But in 2011, the contribution of the 18-35 age group was cut in half – down to 7.5%, while the 65+ share of taxes paid rose to 18%. In other words, the older group – all of whom Bruni assumes are being carried by the younger workers – contributed more than twice as big a share of income taxes as the 18-35-year-olds.
No doubt these awkward factoids escaped the attention of the New York Times fact checkers. They certainly escaped Mr. Bruni.
Bottom line: the older generations have nothing to apologize for.
If you want to read the entire column, here you go: Dear Millennials, We’re Sorry – NYTimes.com.