The world we baby boomers are leaving our kids

The recent Ken Burns-Lynn Novick series “The Vietnam War” has vividly brought back a time of both hope and turmoil for people my age. I am firmly rooted in the baby boomer generation, and the series brings back memories of the political upheaval, dissent, and generational discord that defined that era.

I am a child of the 1960s. Our generation writhed under the traditional value system of our parents. We sought change at all levels. Our generation was activist in nature — the social justice, feminist, and civil rights movements swelled with willing boomer recruits.

We are the generation that brought down a powerful president fighting an unpopular war.

We are the generation that ushered in environmental awareness with the first Earth Day in 1970 (fearing world overpopulation, I was convinced that I would never have children). We created the environmental ethic that is now embraced by younger generations.

And let’s not forget rock ‘n’ roll! While the roots of rock began in the ’50s, the music of our generation exploded in the ’60s and created our cultural identity — fast, loud, edgy (sometimes obscene), inventive, and politically tinged. My rock credentials at the time included attending Monterey Pop (the first big rock festival) and booking one of the Grateful Dead’s earliest concerts at my high school.


We were idealistic, change oriented, and suspicious of wealth and consumerism. What happened?!?

Baby boomers were fortunate to be raised in an economy of opportunity and expansion. Despite our early rejection of middle-class values, we accumulated great wealth that, with the huge size of our cohort, contributed to a giant burst of consumerism. As we got older, prosperity trumped environmentalism — we demanded bigger and more numerous cars, televisions and houses (all with air conditioning, of course).

This wealth also fed an ethic of privilege and greed that created fertile conditions for high-risk financial asset maneuvers and wildly accelerating real estate bubbles. The Great Recession happened on our watch, a 10-year economic slump that compromised our children’s future earnings — the Gen X and Millennial generations are the first to earn less than their parents.

Our baby boomer presidents got us into endless wars that continue today — starting with Clinton’s bombing of Iraq that Bush expanded into full-fledged war and Obama (on the cusp between boomer and Gen X) continued. Who knows what the current baby boomer president will get us into?

The “off-budget” wars helped fuel a phenomenal increase in national debt. The debt ballooned while boomers in Congress (a majority since the beginning of the George W. Bush administration) went on to cut taxes, underfunded Social Security and Medicare, and approved a new expensive Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Civil rights, gay rights, and racial equality may have improved over the years, but our recent experiences with police shootings and protests have revealed a disturbing undercurrent of racial tension that persists. Moreover, women’s reproductive health care is under renewed assault.


And, despite our lofty intentions, environmental degradation continues apace under our watch. Climate change (I’m a believer) may be the single greatest challenge to our children’s generation.

What can be done? Boomers need to be honest that we’ve had it good and we must set a better table for our children and grandchildren.

We need to share in the pain of shoring up Social Security and Medicare. Did we pay for those benefits with taxes? Yes, but not enough for our large, long-living cohort. Solutions, mostly unpopular, include more taxes (gulp!), a modest reduction in benefits, or means testing before receiving benefits. Some even suggest privatizing Medicare, but I’m not willing to go there yet.

And while we’re talking about debt, we need to reinvest in the higher education system that we benefitted from in our youth. While on our watch, college costs more than doubled between 1982 and 2012. We cannot continue saddling our descendants with phenomenal student loan debts to get the education that is obligatory for 21st century jobs.

Finally, Trump administration efforts to the contrary, we need to reduce carbon emissions and promote cleaner energy sources. Climate change used to be a bipartisan issue — in 1988, George H.W. Bush pledged to “fight the greenhouse effect with the White House effect.” But then the power and money of the fossil fuel industry stepped in and he later declared “the American way of life is not up for negotiation.”

That phrase seems to sum it all up for the boomer generation.

If I’m honest with myself, boomers have had ample opportunity to address many of the above solutions. At this point, I think the best solution is to get out of the way. We need to vote out the entitled boomers and vote in younger generations with the guts to make the tough choices.

Lisa Miller, of Somerville, is a former legislator who served on the Health and Human Services and Appropriations and Financial Affairs committees.

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