Well, it has finally come to this! In the late 1980s, Wade Clark Roof published his seminal “Generation of Seekers” as an examination of the growth of the Baby Boom generation. At the dawn of this century, as the first wave of Boomers began to reach so-called retirement, Dr Laurence Kotlikoff and Scott Burns published a powerful book, “The Coming Generational Storm” which examined the potential for generational-economic conflict as we aged and began to connect to Social Security and Medicare. So, we come now to the publication of “Aftermath: The Last Days of the Baby Boom and the Future of American Power” by Philip Bump.
Mr. Bump, a communist for the Washington Post, chronicles the beginning of our end. The book is a sobering and data driven analyses of where we have come from as a generation and, more to his point, what we are leaving behind. It is not pretty. He notes, as does the Census Bureau, that we have been overtaken as the most populous generation by the Millennials. He focuses on the economic inequality that exists between generations. In a review of the book in the February 10 edition of “The Week” (p.22) a quote from a Pittsburgh columnist cited the fact that the $74 trillion in our generation’s assets “does not translate into greater wealth per capita than previous generations held, and because of a substantial increase in wealth inequality, most Boomers have little, if any money to pass on”
Bump looks at the challenges concerning Social Security and Medicare as we live longer and draw on these programs. The political and social ramifications of our aging are handled in data driven text and charts. There is a sense of sadness in the book, as if to say that we started our generational journey with so much hope and individuality and, well, we will be leaving things in flux. As Bump states: “What we can say with the most certainty is that the America into which the baby boomers were born is long gone and that the America they built is crumbling. The uncertainty is whether that America is replaced by ashes or, once again, a phoenix”. (p. 348)
A key question that Bump does raise is how this country is going to take care of this longevity driven generation. Even a quick glimpse of current political debate over debt ceilings, Social Security, Medicare, unpaid caregiving etc., will show that these issues may very well be THE social justice concern for our generation in the next few years. As many of us know, the medical, emotional, and spiritual “costs” that arise in caregiving and with advanced illness in the last years of life can create havoc on so many levels. “This balance between those needing care and those offering care is a much broader problem than simply within families. In fact, it’s a central question for American society and the U.S. economy moving forward.” (p.191)
Let me suggest that you look at this book. It is worthy of your attention because it raises so many key issues that impact us, and the generations that will follow us. There so many serious decisions that must be made from a social level to individual families. We ignore these at our own peril. While we can still impact change, it is our responsibility to act, be informed and be aware. It is our life, after all.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.