ONTD Political

Occupy Wall Street's Age Divide

6:53 pm - 10/17/2011
I am a baby boomer. Like many people my age, I have a high-paying and generally pleasant job, which features excellent benefits and a flexible work schedule. I’m also one of those people who, not long ago, would have dismissed the Occupy Wall Street protesters as just another bunch of spoiled kids, indulging in political street theater, while lacking any serious and constructive agenda. (Those people seem to include almost all of the mainstream media, which until a few days ago limited their coverage of the protesters to mocking their clothes and music. Predictably, time has transformed many boomers into their own parents.)

I am, in other words, part of what could be called the Clueless Generation. The Clueless Generation is made up of middle-aged, professionally successful people, who grew up in a nation that featured a mostly thriving economy, low-cost higher education, and some minimal commitment to economic justice. As a consequence, we graduated from school with little or no debt, got good jobs that featured real possibilities for advancement, and have on the whole ended up doing very well for ourselves.

A lot of us have also become insufferably smug and complacent. Over the past year I was lucky enough to be jolted out of my own smugness and complacency by a series of painful encounters with recent law-school graduates. I began to investigate the question of how many law graduates were getting jobs as lawyers, and discovered that a shocking percentage—more than half—were not.

Since I went to law school in the 1980s, the cost of legal education has quadrupled in real terms, thereby ensuring most current law students will graduate with six figures of debt from law school alone. Meanwhile legal employers are downsizing and outsourcing, to the point where the ratio between new lawyers and new jobs for lawyers is approximately two to one. And most of the new jobs don’t pay enough to allow even those who are lucky enough to get them to pay their educational debts.

My attempts to bring this economic and human crisis to the attention of the law-school world have been met mostly with denial and incomprehension. It seems the Clueless Generation is largely incapable of grasping that this is no ordinary downturn in the business cycle, but rather that America is no longer the same country in which we were so fortunate to come of age.

For the still largely unacknowledged crisis in legal education merely mirrors the vastly larger crisis in our society as a whole. Millions of young adults are graduating from college and professional schools with massive amounts of educational debt—debt that, thanks to sweetheart legislative deals that lined the pockets of bankers, cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. In just the past decade, total outstanding educational debt in America has risen more than five-fold, from $180 billion to nearly $1 trillion. Meanwhile, the international crisis of global capitalism has led employers large and small to do everything possible to cut labor costs. This has produced the current 15 percent official unemployment rate among Americans in their 20s. (The real unemployment rate is far higher, since the government counts people as unemployed only if they did zero hours of paid work in the past week and have been actively seeking employment at some point in the last four weeks.)


What the Clueless Generation finds difficult to comprehend is that literally millions of highly educated and hardworking young Americans—people who followed all the rules and did everything we told them to do—are either severely underemployed or have no jobs of any kind. Meanwhile, they struggle with the massive educational debts they incurred after the baby boomers decided that access to the bargain-priced higher education from which we benefited wasn’t so important after all.


Now, as the protests spread across the country, the core of the Occupy Wall Street movement—young, overeducated, and underemployed—is beginning to find common cause with many other people disillusioned with a social system that continues to grant its privileged elite ever-greater rewards. The compelling images (http://wearethe99percent.tumblr.com/) from what the movement calls “the 99 percent” paint a portrait of our new Gilded Age that we ignore at our peril.

America’s first Gilded Age in the late 19th century led eventually to mass protests and nationwide strikes (http://politics.salon.com/2011/10/08/occupy_wall_street_a_historical_perspective/) , which played a key role in the development of both progressive politics and the modern labor movement. The widespread labor insurgency of the mid-1930s pushed FDR to adopt the most important and long-lasting features of the New Deal. And the civil-rights and antiwar mass mobilizations of the 1960s helped overcome some of the great injustices of that era.

It seems that at this moment we in the Clueless Generation could use a reminder that the 1960s were about something more than sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

Source - Paul Campos

Interesting to me mostly, because I work with a lot of baby boomers and their general knee jerk reaction to this whole movement is eye rolling. I think the reaction of many of the media outlets, many of which have middle aged newscasters, speaks for itself and reflects this quite a bit.
echoandsway 18th-Oct-2011 02:09 am (UTC)
Yeeeeep.

Back when I was a teen -- '86 or '87, maybe -- I recall reading a Time or Newsweek article pointing out that the Boomers were followed by one of the smallest generations (that is, mine), since there were so damn many of them, and so damn many of them deferred or deflected childbearing, causing this unusual inequity which, the article predicted, was going to lead to a lot of problems that even the subsequent mini-boom as those who deferred childbearing went for it in the '80s wouldn't compensate for. It sounded dire, but those chickens are starting to come home to roost. People of my age, when we have jobs, aren't able to move up, since those jobs are already taken by older people...and people younger than me? Are really, really screwed.

It's funny that the prevailing attitude of so many Boomers is that Younger Persons are just spoiled and entitled -- this, coming from a generation that could best be described as self-indulgent, having benefited enormously from the entitlements their parents codified. How spoiled can we be, when they're getting all the good stuff?

The presence of a very young population who also have the highest jobless rates has been a huge factor in the Arab Spring of revolution and reform; the US population has the oversized bulge of (often-smug) people in their 50s and 60s, but the group under 30 is a pretty big demographic, and they, like their counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia and Libya, are the most economically-screwed. The people just above them are a lot more likely to identify with their concerns than with older people, because we, too, are screwed.

I think Boomers inclined to be complacent and dismissive should think a little harder on this.
hammersxstrings 18th-Oct-2011 03:01 am (UTC)
when we have jobs, aren't able to move up, since those jobs are already taken by older people

omg this so hard. granted, I'm a millenial, but I work with many middle aged people and we have men that are like 65, 70, and still working because they either want to or actually have to. it just sucks for everyone all around.

I really wish people of all ages would pay more attention to this. I've been going nuts posting these types of articles everywhere (i'm sure annoying the crap out of my friends and family lol); it's not as simple of hating capitalism or wanting student loans forgiven. WE WANT JOBS. we want corps to stop outsoucing jobs. we need it to change. it just sucks.

lol this turned a lot longer than i thought; apologies lol
echoandsway 18th-Oct-2011 04:19 am (UTC)
No worries; my comment was a semi-coherent essay ;)

t just sucks for everyone all around.

I really wish people of all ages would pay more attention to this.


That's the source of the immense amount of frustration I feel about this: the issues here were anticipated decades ago -- any fool could see what those numbers were going to mean for the future. Since the people who could have planned for it and didn't -- the ones in charge of making those policies -- have been people of the Boomer generation, it's impossible (for me at least) to not feel resentful (on the whole) with what looks like a continuation of that short-sightedness in not recognizing that there are now real problems as a result, not just whining.
grace_om 18th-Oct-2011 05:07 am (UTC)
How many boomers do you reckon there are? Now how many people are "in charge"? A preponderance of those in charge being of a certain generation does not make all boomers responsible. Very poor reasoning. Look at those who are actually responsible instead of playing the generation-hate game.
echoandsway 18th-Oct-2011 05:22 pm (UTC)
Oh fer crying out loud drop the defensiveness. No one hates you because you're a Boomer. No one said, or says, all Boomers are responsible. There are plenty of Boomers who are disadvantaged due to factors other than age-group demographics as in any other generation. This is not about you, yourself. It is about systemic social trends.

Glossing over the fact that those who HAVE some influence over shaping the policy -- and who have ignored the pressing need to do so for *decades* -- are of that demographic is disingenuous. So is pretending that societal advantages that Boomers, as a generation, had that are no longer available (but on which certain social expectations are still predicated) don't factor into the current rather dire economic situation -- or worse, pretending that those advantages weren't there. Boomers *as a group* have enormous influence in shaping public and economic policy, by virtue of sheer numbers AND now by virtue of age group (because it's axiomatic in our society that those of certain ages do hold more institutional power), and the disparities which were inexorably going to lead to the problems we have now should have been considered in the first place. Given how this singularly large population group has shaped our culture since they came of age, this isn't something that should even be at issue. Given that in the long run people of your generation ARE now going to have to deal with growing old in a society where the younger groups simply won't be able to support you if things continue like this, I'd think you'd have more constructive things to do than cry "generation-hate."
grace_om 18th-Oct-2011 09:51 pm (UTC)
It's really sad that you can't see what you're doing.
echoandsway 19th-Oct-2011 12:17 am (UTC)
You don't really have a cogent response, do you?
fornikate 18th-Oct-2011 05:40 pm (UTC)
get over it. i don't like being labeled lazy because i'm poor, either.
grace_om 18th-Oct-2011 09:51 pm (UTC)
If I called you lazy because you're poor, you'd be totally right in calling me out on it.
fornikate 18th-Oct-2011 10:00 pm (UTC)
oh jeez

it's not about you, specifically. and when you get all het up and bawwww about how 'we aren't all like that' and 'omg mean' you're ignoring the real issues.
cecilia_weasley 18th-Oct-2011 05:59 am (UTC)
Not to defend everyone who's working with you, but some of them probably have to work. I actually don't think I will ever retire, personally, because I won't be able to afford it.
hammersxstrings 18th-Oct-2011 03:55 pm (UTC)
No, I completely understand that. I think I even said that-that some of them have to, because social security and their retirement just isn't enough to keep up with daily living expenses. My grandmother is 75 and still works because is it. It sucks for everyone, all around.
romp 18th-Oct-2011 05:51 am (UTC)
I'm the same age and it's been exhausting hearing for TWENTY-FIVE years that you'll never match your parents' quality of life. True but still... At least we had warning--I'm not sure anyone thought to warn those younger.
echoandsway 18th-Oct-2011 05:25 pm (UTC)
We had one big advantage that I can think of: when we were of college age, it was still possible to get a decent higher education without taking out exorbitant student loans. It's a lot harder to do that now -- and our higher educations, like younger peoples', turned out to be worth less than a bucket of warm spit in the job market. I'm sure there are other ways in which we have had it easier, as that generation in the middle.
romp 18th-Oct-2011 05:47 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I recently saw it's gone up 4X. But that was undergrad--all ages go back to school when they finally find something they want to do. My most recent degree is from 6 years ago and I fully expect to die with that loan.
echoandsway 18th-Oct-2011 08:01 pm (UTC)
Exactly. And the bachelors degree is now so devalued that if you want to actually *have* academic credentials that are worth anything, it's going to mean paying into that loan system.
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