America’s Wealth Gap Widens

I read something in this morning’s newspaper that stunned me.

The article was talking about how wide the “wealth gap” has grown between the young and the old in this country.

Households headed by a person aged 65-plus, for example, are worth 47 times more than those headed by a person under the age of 35.

The article went on to say older households are increasing in assets, while younger people are racking up more debt — chiefly via student loans and housing. It said young people are returning to school for advanced degrees in hopes the current poor job market will turn around; in addition, many young people are struggling to pay mortgages on homes that have shrunk in value from when they bought them during the housing boom.

On the whole, this makes me angry.

I truly sympathize with young people who want their share of the American Dream. Fine houses, big cars, furniture, annual vacations.

And I’m sure that many can’t find suitable employment. Jobs aren’t being created in many industries right now; some jobs have gone overseas, and many companies have enacted hiring freezes as they wait out an uncertain political arena.

But who told these young people that they’re supposed to have RIGHT NOW what the older generation has worked a lifetime for? Who told them their salaries should be in the six figures, right out of college? Who told them to live paycheck to paycheck? Who told them everything should be “even”?

Many oldsters scrimped and saved their entire lives. They “made do” with old clothes, old appliances, old furniture. They didn’t take vacations (unless, like my parents, it was a quick trip to visit relatives). They stayed in one home rather than constantly “trading up” to fancier neighborhoods.

And they invested wisely. Real estate, stocks and bonds, retirement accounts, their own businesses.

I see both sides of this issue. My son’s in college, so I can’t help but worry about what kind of future he will face; my mother is of “the greatest generation,” so she must remain vigilant and careful with her savings. While son has youth and time on his side, mom can’t return to the workforce.

The last thing young people need is a bunch of old folks occupying space in the employment lines!

Every generation hopes the one behind it will do better — be better educated, amass more money, be healthier and happier. But all that takes time.

Young people must curb some of their impatience. Instead of envying Grandma for her savings, perhaps they should bust their bottoms to emulate her wisdom.

What do you think?

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16 thoughts on “America’s Wealth Gap Widens

  1. I feel bad for the kids, too. If they could find good jobs, they could amass their own wealth. My 19-yr old nephew would be homeless except that he works 3 part-time jobs and is in the Marine Reserves. Sleeps on his uncles’ couch and pays rent for that. We need to have more jobs for everybody, young and old, and then this problem would sort itself out.

    • I agree, Lynne. The sad thing is there really aren’t that many good, decent-paying jobs for the kids to do. But, when we were their age, we didn’t mind doing any kind of work; too many kids now think certain types of jobs are “beneath” them. Your nephew doesn’t sound like that — congratulations to whoever raised him! If he’s wise and frugal, he will save his money and manage just fine (providing this country doesn’t go bankrupt in the meantime!)

  2. Debbie, I just read the same article and agree with your points. Everything my “Greatest Generation” parents or I ,the Boomer, have attained has been the result of years of being frugal and mindful of the “Golden Years” Unfortunately, some of the younger generations have been brought up to have easy access to plastic within a climate of immediate gratification and even entitlement. I am not meaning to stereotype everyone of younger generations. The economy and housing market are struggling but I learned a “cash on the barrel” mentality. If I don’t have the money, I don’t buy it and if I want something,I budget it in and buy it if I can. I am very grateful to my parents who both endured the Depression for instilling these values in me. Thanks for another thought-provoking post!

    • Thank you, Kathy — sounds as if your parents raised you the same way mine raised me! To this day, if I don’t have money for something I want, I wait until I can afford it. I don’t buy into a lot of pricey things (high fashion, trips to day spas, expensive cars and jewelry, etc.). As my dad always used to say, A Timex will keep time just as well as a Rolex and cost a whole lot less! It’s good to know you agree with me, my frugal friend!

  3. I know some of the younger generation start working with a sense of entitlement, expecting to be given managerial positions right from the start. At least I experienced that couple of years ago whenever I hired a new entry level position. But I think that’s changing. It is harder now for young people than it was when we were just beginning. I do feel bad for them.

    • I feel bad for them too, Monica, but I fear the universities still are telling the kids they can expect fancy jobs right out of the shoot. They certainly told US that. Imagine our surprise at the low, menial wages we were able to command, as well as the tiny apartments we lived in and the old cars we kept! Too many of these kids don’t even try to find employment — it’s easier to stay in school, live at home, and come and go as they please. Not everybody is geared for college, but everybody buys into the idea that higher education will guarantee them a job. Thanks for your comment and for adding to the discussion!

  4. Debbie, I have the same situation at home that you do. My son is in his third year of college and to this day, still hasn’t a clue regarding what he’s going to do when he “grows up.” My sister, whose son is in his fourth year of college, also shares the same woes. We cry and complain over coffee, wondering what these kids are going to do when they graduate. At this point, the only solution would be for someone to win the lottery or for the economy to improve. Sadly, I don’t see either of those happening. That said, I feel the younger generation have a sense of entitlement that isn’t entirely their fault. As parents, we have enabled this behavior. In providing our children with the latest toys, gadgets, brand name clothing, and so forth, we have created these little monsters. In the meantime, we’re darning our socks, wearing boots that are ten years old, and wearing summer wear in the winter. And yes, these examples are mine! hee hee! I keep praying for a miracle but you and I know how that’s going to turn out. Heaven help us! :)

    • Thanks for being a first-person account for me, Bella! I’m not “old,” but I remember not everybody in my high school class went on to college. Some joined the military, some went into family businesses, some decided on secretarial or technical jobs, some opened their own small businesses. I still say there are opportunities for those who seek them — but they might not be in the hallowed halls of our universities!

  5. Bella has some very good points. I know I only had myself to depend on when I left home and it wasn’t a good feeling not to have a back up. I wanted to foster my children’s independence and yet let them know we had there backs if things didn’t work out. They’re doing ok, but I see it being much more difficult to own a home and the employment situation is really sad.

    • I knew my folks had my back, and my son knows I have his. That said, both of us are frugal to the point of squeezing pennies. I don’t think parents mind helping kids when they know the kids are trying to save; it’s when the kids expect to have all the comforts of home immediately (and can’t afford them on their earnings) that things get tricky. Thanks for voicing your opinion, Suzi!

  6. “Instead of envying Grandma for her savings, perhaps they should bust their bottoms to emulate her wisdom.” I think this sums it up for me. I think creative hard working young people will always be in demand and yep young people will have to blaze some new trails..the last thing they need from us is agreement about how “tough they have it.” I do agree with helping young adults reach their goals if we can, and supporting their efforts. One thing all my friends kids seem to be really struggling with is the pressure of college debt and I wonder if some of that could be lessened by making different college choices,…Is college the right answer for all kids….I think we need a shift in how we think about education and jobs…I wish I knew where to start… on the other hand maybe you just did start by opening up a dialogue.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Katybeth! I wonder, too, if we should be pressing all our kids to get a college degree. If everybody is “educated,” who’s going to do the work that might not be as prestigious but might well be more personally rewarding?? After all, a chef doesn’t need to go to college, but we ALL need to eat!!

  7. I’m like you – I can see both sides. Yeah, the job market isn’t great for those just coming out of college, but I’ve also seen some crazy spending in the younger crowd. The sooner we get off the gadget-go-round, the better (in my opinion.)

    When I went to college, I knew I couldn’t afford Ivy League, or even out of state, so I opted for 2 years of community college and then transferred to an in-state university. I rented a 300 square-foot studio apartment and took a shuttle to the main campus for $1 each way so I didn’t have to pay for a parking decal, gas and wear-and-tear on my old car. I waitressed every day I wasn’t at school to pay for my rent and books (saved up tuition money before I left home.) My parents didn’t have the money to pay for my schooling, but they helped how they could. They bought me a small TV, which is funny because I hardly had time to watch it :)

    Sorry for the novella-length comment.

    • Good for you, Janna! This just goes to prove that, if you want something badly enough, you’ll find the means to attain it. I love your expression “gadget-go-round” because that’s truly what it is, another marketing ploy designed to make us feel insecure and urge us to accumulate “stuff” right now since everybody else is doing so. People who work for things like education always appreciate them more, too!

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