“Giving While Living”. Intergenerational Wealth Transfer as Boomers Exit: Do The Rich Get Richer?

Photo by Hannah Reding on Unsplash
Photo by Hannah Reding on Unsplash

            There has been an increasing amount of conversation recently regarding the need for Boomers and our children to engage in conversation about our caregiving and end of life wishes. I just participated in a community wide conversation on this in Baltimore and two days later, a workshop with a congregation that also looked at this issue. I raise this here because the inter-generational issues that surround the gradual end of the Baby Boom generation need to be discussed. One of the most revealing issues made the front page of the New York Times on Monday May 15. There, in black and white, was a serious and thought-provoking article entitled “Baby Boomers Leaving Behind Riches, Still Mostly for the Rich”.

            The article pointed out the proactive of what the authors referred to as “giving while living”. “It’s no longer an oncoming phenomenon”, said one financial advisor, “it’s present day”. This unprecedented transfer of wealth, underway now, is not equitable, according to the article and other sources. In his recent book “The Aftermath: The Last Days of the Baby Boom and the Future of Power in America”, Philip Bump noted that “The baby boom has accumulated an enormous amount of wealth during its three quarters of a century existence. What happens to that wealth once the boom is gone?” Bump writes that our economy will be impacted by the choices our generation will make in our final years. “about how they spend their retirements and how and when they pass their wealth on to younger Americans.” He adds the wild card of the impact of politics which we see being discussed now with the debt ceiling debacle. Bump also reminds us that “For the next 10 years boomers will be at least a fifth of the adult population and a higher percentage of the electorate”

            A challenge, as the Times article points out, is that “The wealthiest 10 percent of households will be giving and receiving a majority of the riches. Within that range, the top 1 percent—which holds about as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent and is predominantly white—will dictate the broadest share of the money flow. The more diverse bottom 50 percent of households will account for only 8 percent of the transfers”. Now, factor in these figures to the coming realities of caregiving and how our children may be asked to pay for our care. Will we and our children be able to afford high quality care (assuming it is available) or will these changing demographics and economics place an even greater burden on families and community organizations, like congregations, or family service agencies?

            The “economics of aging” is a subject that is continually being raised in many of our workshops and classes. What seems to be true is that there is a real and growing economic disparity as our generation prepares to exit, and thus an increasing burden to be placed on a large segment of our children’s generation. As we have written, this is a major social justice issue for us as we move forward. If we are a tradition that prizes dignity and sanctity, especially as we age, do we not need to look at this issue? From Congress to our own family rooms, this issue is real and no going away.


Rabbi Richard F Address

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