Friday, June 10, 2011

Talkin’ bout my generation.

Dear Mister Ryan,

I’ve been hearing about the money problems you all are dealing with yonder in Washington D.C., and your “Roadmap for America's Future.” So I’m just writing to let you know that after work today, I’m going over to Sears. I’m going to find the biggest refrigerator they’ve got. I don’t care whether it has an ice dispenser. I’m just going to ask for the box.

You see, I figure I’d better get my refrigerator box now, before everyone else my age figures out what’s going on and rushes out to get their own. There’s a joke going around that in our golden years, that’s what we’ll be living in. (You probably haven’t heard it, though.)

I’ve read a lot about you, Mister Ryan, so let me tell you a bit about me. I’m a “Trailing Edge Boomer,” born in 1964. We grew up in the shadow of the “Leading Edge Boomers,” folks born between 1946 and 1955. The Leadings led the cultural revolution in America, fighting for civil rights and women’s rights and standing up against war. How I envied them! (I know you probably don’t like what they achieved, Mister Ryan, but I sure do.)

I got my first job at 16, flipping burgers at a McDonald’s in Milwaukee. (My condolences on the untimely death of your father, but I understand that you were receiving Social Security payments when you were that age, so maybe you didn’t do any burger-flipping.) Well, I sucked at flipping burgers, but with those paychecks, I started “paying into the system,” and I’ve been doing so ever since.

While I was in journalism school, I worked at the local newspaper. (I understand that when you were in college, you worked for Oscar Meyer, driving a Wienermobile. Good for you! And luckily, you were able to use your Social Security benefits to pay for college. That’s awesome.) I realized as a journalist I’d never be “rich,” but I’m not a diamonds-and-furs kind of person so that was okay by me. I married a pastor (which you should appreciate, being a practicing Catholic and all). My husband works as a chaplain, bringing comfort to the sick and dying. We both work long hours, but we like to think we’re making a positive change in the world. (That’s a Baby Boomer thing; you wouldn’t understand.)

So my hubby and I have been living a really nice little life. We’ve raised a son (a good kid), and we purchased a humble house (for much less than the bank said we could afford), and we’ve “lived within our means.” (Oh, and we’ve continued “paying into the system.”) Looking into the future, we never expected that we’d spend our retirement taking cruises to the Caribbean. We figured we’d sell the house, find a small place, do a lot of reading and enjoy each others’ company. Nothing extravagant (unless having a couple of cats is extravagant). A nice little life.

But now, Mister Ryan, if you’ll pardon the expression, we’ve gotten bitch-slapped six ways to Tuesday.

You see, the Leadings spent the majority of their careers in an era of economic expansion. True, there were recessions in 1969, 1973, and 1980, but these were relatively short-lived and mild. We all enjoyed the 1990s, but the party came to an abrupt end during the Bush presidency – just when we Trailings were entering our “prime earning years.” As you know, things went south in a hurry. Retirement savings were lost, homes were drowned, layoffs soared and lots of us lucky enough to have jobs are earning less than we did before. (Oh, and our country went from having a $236 billion surplus to having a bazillion-dollar deficit. But you know all about that.)

Low-income Leadings are suffering. But the way I see it, the Recession is especially cruel to us Trailings. We do have more years to prepare for our retirement, but we’ve spent most of our careers in an era of stagnant wages and rising healthcare, housing and energy costs. And now – when we should be at the top of our game – we’re stuck in the economic mud for the foreseeable future. Experts tell us we need to have at least $600,000 saved for retirement. Most of us have less than $20,000, and the next decade’s not looking pretty.

And then, Mister Ryan, along you come with your Roadmap. You want to privatize “entitlement” programs, Social Security and Medicare – but don’t worry, you say, the changes won’t affect anyone under 55. As a Trailing Edge Boomer, that doesn’t make me feel any better. See, you’re making $215,700 a year and your wife Janna is a tax attorney. You might be able to save enough to pay for the health care and living your vouchers won’t cover by the time you turn 65 (in 2035), but most of us won’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I realize our country is in financial hot water. But I’m wondering why you didn’t think about that when you voted for two unfunded wars and Medicare Part D? And why you supported massive tax cuts and want still more? I’m sure you’re sick of people asking you these questions, but really, why didn’t you…?

It seems like only yesterday the future was so bright we had to wear shades. But now a lot of us are pretty scared about what tomorrow will bring after all these years of “paying into the system.” You say you want to solve the problem, but I’m trying to figure out how slashing tax revenue from the wealthy and making health care harder to get could be anybody’s idea of making things better.

Sorry this was so long, Mister Ryan, but I just wanted you to know. And now that I think about it, I should stock up on catfood, too.


Jim said...

Love it...

Aileen said...

Well said. What I love now is the news that the government might default on the debt. Do you suppose this "news" is somehow being bandied about right now to scare citizens into accepting further cuts to services and more "sacrifice" from us? Remember when Clinton was in office and people were asked if they would be willing to pay higher taxes to reduce the debt. The response was yes. It's like we have two choices. Default or cutback. I mean it is obvious we could not ask for tax increases on BIG businesses. OBVIOUSLY we depend on them for our good paying jobs and communal contributions! All while they have huge American flags (made in China) in their front yards. Yes, I'm cynical and spend way too much time enraged by globalization and it's heartless, stateless march toward exploitation of resources, human and otherwise, to be measured in my responses. But hey, I like your column. I too have a blog where I carry on and post things I think are worth sharing. I just left a comment on Sharon's site where she wondered about cleaning up her friends. FB is a good place for people our age to stay connected. Dan is planning on retiring at the end of this job. Despite feelings that this default may be a scare tactic for political manipulation of the public, we are concerned about what it might do to the ole retirement fund which is well below the 600,000 they recommend! Aileen