Monday, March 19, 2012

Generations and fortune

I cannot stand people of my generation who do not recognize how LUCKY we have been.

For most of us life is a combination of conditions we were handed and what we made of them. To my friends who believe that we totally create our own reality: manifesting a good life is easier if your starting point is not birth as a poor girl in Somalia.

I do not begrudge others a greater good fortune, but I want to see them acknowledge it even as I acknowledge mine. 

Take coming to Canada.  

I was an early adopter of feminism. I take credit for refusing to be a company wife. Shell wives were plucked from home and work and settled in some far-away place, and then the husbands disappeared into the field for 6 weeks at the time. At that time I was willing to follow my geologist husband to the North Pole if that's where he had to be, but once there I would want him home for dinner. Or I could accept absences, but then I wanted the chance to build a life of my own. 

Canada offered the chance to do the latter, and we knew some fellow students who had settled in Calgary. Coming to Canada was very much a joint decision. It was a smart idea, but people today face years of waiting. In 1969 it was EASY. On top of fast approval the Dutch government paid our voyage, a policy left over from the post war housing crisis. Talk about having the wind in your sails.

Then there was the Land. Apart from coming to Canada in the first place buying it when we did was the smartest thing we have done in our life. But people who have the same idea today face prices that are ten times higher in adjusted dollars. We would never have been able to do it.

What brought this topic on? Watching a lecture by Elizabeth Warren: "The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class". Please note the date: March 8 2007, before the 2008 crash.

I highly recommend the whole video but for those who lack the time or patience, here is the gist of it.

It compares incomes and expenses of a median middle class family consisting of Mom, Dad, and 2 kids in the early seventies with those of a similar family thirty-some years later. 

In the early seventies the one income family saved about 11% of its income. In 2003 a similar family could not make ends meet on 2 incomes.

Now, hands up if you believe that most of this is due to personal choices:
people spending too much on clothes, eating out and the latest toys. Hear the early boomers and older going "Tsk tsk tsk, those spoiled mall rats."

Guess what: money spent on clothing, food, and other items of ordinary consumption went DOWN. These are the expenses that one can adjust if times get tough.
The percentage of income devoted to fixed expenses like mortgages, health insurance, cars, went UP. This is NOT due to people buying McMansions. The average first home stayed almost the same. Those big houses you see being built everywhere (or at least you saw them in 2007) are  for the top 20%. 

In 1971 the entry ticket for the middle class was a High School diploma and a willingness to work. Try that today. Most people believe that a college degree is needed, and the price of education is way up. 

All over vulnerability went way UP. 

Think about it: if a single earner Dad loses a job the family still has a reserve worker: Mom. If a child or a parent gets sick and needs care someone was home to look after them. There was elasticity in the system.
We won't even talk about the present health care system's policy to send people home from hospital sooner and sicker, expecting family members to provide care.

These days the family is already stretched in terms of time and money when things go well. Throw a spanner in the works in the form of illness or job loss and you're looking at bankruptcy. 

The moral of the story: Boomers and older, be kind to the young. They have it tough. The least we can do is spare them any moralizing.


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