IT'S OK, WE'LL STILL HAVE SOCIAL SECURITY

At the risk of repeating everything I've already said about the Baby Boomers – the greatest, most amazing, and specialest generation ever to grace the planet – they still manage to shock me on a regular basis with their brazen selfishness.

The pension system for the University of California system was running a surplus by the end of the 1980s. So in 1990 they did what any reasonable Boomer-led institution would do: they stopped contributing to their own retirement benefits. The state happily did the same (the system was funded by employee payroll deductions and matching contributions from the state). This is classic Boomer logic. If your pension fund / Federal budget runs a surplus, stop paying into it immediately and spend the "savings" on yourselves.

Of course it wouldn't be a Boomer-run operation if the pension fund made wise, safe investments. When the real estate market collapsed the fund lost almost 25% of its value. Shockingly, the decline in value combined with 20 years of not paying into the system left it billions of dollars under water and unable to meet its obligations. So employees had to start contributing again, albeit a mere 2% of gross pay. But the Regents have just increased the contribution requirement to 5% in what is now essentially a pay-as-you-go system. Professors (or Regents, or custodians, or any other employee) who started working in the 70s or 80s did not contribute a cent to their own retirement for two decades and now they've decided that the current young generation of workers will bankroll their retirements.

It would be one thing if younger workers were being asked to increase their contributions in order to make the system solvent again. But the pension fund is nearly insolvent and today's new employees are paying just to keep benefits flowing to current and near-future retirees. I need to find one of those "Keep Working – Millions on Welfare Depend on You" bumper stickers and carefully replace the misguided "welfare" bashing with "Millions of Boomers."

This is only going to get more common in the next few years. Illinois, the only state that might be in worse financial shape than California, recently reformed its Judges' and Legislators' pension plans with the typical Boomer-friendly provisos – current employees near retirement are grandfathered in at 85% of their final salary with a 3% yearly increase versus 60% and no increase for everyone who follows. And it's virtually certain that Social Security "reform" will take the general approach. Keeping in mind how few of us in the younger generations have decent jobs with decent salaries, it's a miracle that they can massage the math enough to make these schemes viable in the short term – to say nothing of their almost certain insolvency over the long run.

Thanks, folks. We'll pay more into your retirement system than you did, secure in the knowledge that it won't even exist anymore by the time we need it.

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38 Responses to “IT'S OK, WE'LL STILL HAVE SOCIAL SECURITY”

  1. Nunya Says:

    Jesus Fucking Christ! I've watched this happening in every industry since I began working in the early 90's. "Sure, I'll screw over the young guy, after all, my kids won't be working in this field."

    To be fair, there are a lot of boomers who are finding themselves without pensions and with devastated 401Ks but their plight looks like childs play based on what they left for their kids.

    I'm not sure how much further this "beggar thy children" model will last but it appears to me that any advanced civilization has the obligation to find the means to educate its children and to care for its elderly. The boomers will slide through the responsibility portion of this excercise and their kids will, with any luck, not pay it forward to their kids.

    While insanity has gone mainstream on the right, I have a glimmer of optimism as I meet 20-somethings that actually understand that allowing business to have all of the power is bullshit and that maybe, just maybe, labor unions aren't such a bad thing and, oh, maybe voting for the scared old white guy isn't the best way to insure that youhave a profitable working life and some semblence of security when you're too old and infermed to work any longer.

    There's little we can do to salvage the mess the boomers left us in but we can vote and organize and ensure a better future if not for us but the future children we may not be comfortable throwing under the bus.

  2. Jude Says:

    Ah, Boomer bashing. I'm a big fan, as that generation has basically made the robber barons look like a bunch of commune hippies.

    And I love the comments from aggrieved Boomers, too.

    Bravo, Ed!

  3. anotherbozo Says:

    Interesting how boomer philosophy mimics conservative philosophy: "I've got mine; you get yours."

    anotherbozo,
    überboomer

  4. Ally Says:

    But, but, Ed!!!!! These people pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, spent all their money & didn't save for their retirement! Cut WIC and Welfare and Medicaid –We HAVE to help THEM. OH wait.

    This is like that time when one of my parents was complaining about all the taxes they had to pay on their dream home in a swanky, safe area with great schools & a youth soccer complex. No sympathy. I have to think of my retirement in my 20's, not to mention school debt, in order to offset the lack of pension/SSI that will be available in 40 years. They have no idea what that feels like!

  5. Edward Says:

    Maybe this reflects how politics in this country is based on telling people what they want to hear and promising free lunches. Now I will go back to my bread and circuses.

  6. Edward Says:

    By the way, what have you done for me lately?

  7. Seth Says:

    Not quite, anotherbozo. Conservative philosophy says, "I've got mine, I'll take yours, and if you think you can stop me, go ahead and try."

  8. jazzbumpa Says:

    OK, I love glittering generalities as much as the next DFH, but god damn it, you're talkin' 'bout my g-g-generation as if we are a fucking monolithic greed machine. I retired after 23 years in the auto industry on a pension that is about 29% of my final salary. I also put my kids through college, and help them them out in small ways from time to time. I hardly think I'm alone in having some consideration for the quality of life my grandchildren will experience.

    Yeah it was the Gordon Gheckos of the word who got us where we are, but that's because they are human fucking beings, not because they are members of some particular fucking generation.

    It's a little hard to tell sometimes just how far up in your virtual cheek you are tucking your virtual tongue, but since you're coming back to this theme , I'll assume your serious.

    What do we call this brand of bigotry – generationalism? It makes exactly as much sense as racism, sexism, and religious intolerance.

    Look, I know the world's a god-damned mess, but it wasn't a generation that did it. It was greedy, opportunistic, power-hungry human beings who did what people always do, irrespective of place and time, not a god-damned generation. Ronald fucking Reagan was already old when I was young.

    I really hate it when you start thinking like a reactionary.

    Now I must go hug a squid.
    JzB

    P.S. Fuck you, ass hole. And you, too, Jude.

  9. Larry Signor Says:

    What jazzbumpa said. Fuck that ignorant hate thing. I'm just another DFH living off my garden. Beats the shit out of taking government money that has been laundered through a university.

  10. bb in GA Says:

    Boomers are commonly defined as people born in the US between 1946-64.

    So our last three Presidents are Boomers (BHO barely) The Presidency aside, Senior leadership in Business and Politics for Boomers came when? At the leading edge, Boomers were 50 in 1996.

    Most of the political and business leadership that brought us all the sucky decisions and results we have today were not Boomers.

    This is not classical blame shifting. I think we Boomers come behind no group in self absorption…just SELFism, but I don't believe we had the juice when most of the decisons were made.

    I think our big failure was not overcoming the inertia to reverse a lot of the stupid because we were too busy playing w/ ourselves and staring at our mirrors.

    //bb

  11. Amy Says:

    Caveat: Sorry I did not know where else to send this to you…
    This is so "Ed" that I am suprised that "Ed" did not write it.
    http://articles.sfgate.com/2010-09-12/opinion/23999768_1_major-parties-household-income-deficit

  12. mike R Says:

    It is certainly good that those of you who must follow us, the boomers, are finally realizing that we have completely controlled and will control your destiny until the last remaining boomer expires. You are of course right none of us ever cared whether the rest of you ate cat food or starved. Just give you a backpack, a canteen and send you down the road, good luck and all that.

    While we have our share of shit heads, Newt, GWB, Rush and Glen Beck( who just makes the cut, (wish we could palm him off on you) you also have your own hall of shame Christine O Donnell, Joe Miller of Alaska and who could forget Paul Ryan and his new road map for America, maybe you won't have social security. You came pretty close to getting Eric Cantor and Jeff Flake but we have to claim them, you just lucked out there. But for the most part Ed. enjoy your writing. It's okay with me if you don't like a lot of the boomer leadership, I don't either.

  13. nate Says:

    I just wish I could go to a grocery store without hearing the same fucking classic rock songs I heard on FM when I was six years old. I'm going to be retired before they play Nirvana.

  14. David R Says:

    Shifting away from the "do boomers suck" argument and responding to what Ed said about Social Security….

    I recently finished up a 3-year work contract in South Korea. At my Korean boss's suggestion, I visited Korea's social security office before returning to America. A Korean social security agent gave me two options:

    1) Get a refund on what I paid into Korea's social security, dollar for dollar (9% of 3 years' worth of earnings), PLUS interest (2% interest or so).

    OR

    2) Transfer my social security funds to the American Social Security Office, per a reciprocity agreement between the ROK and USA governments.

    Can anyone guess which option I chose?

  15. Monkey Business Says:

    Now, I like to blame the Boomers as much as the next guy. As a whole, they might be one of the most selfish and self-absorbed groups of people to ever walk the planet. It's safe to say that the majority of the problems we have today are their fault.

    However, everything that has happened today is not entirely their fault.

    Before them, you had their predecessors, the Silent Generation. Too young to go to war, and too old to cash in on the Boomers, they let the Greatest Generation and the Boomers run all over them.

    After the Boomers, you have Generation X. The first generation of latchkey kids. The first generation to experience cable TV and the internet. Also, the generation second most responsible for the gigantic fuckup we call our present circumstances.

    Finally, there's my generation. The Millennials. We're the ones making everyone nuts. We're the most connected and wired generation ever. We have attention spans that are infinitesimally small. We have zero interest in "paying our dues". We have watched the generations before us preside in fuckup after fuckup after fuckup, and frankly are sick to death of you guys screwing things up for us, whether it's the economy, the environment, politics, social issues, or any one of a hundred other things. Moreover, we're overwhelmingly liberal, to the point that even our most conservative members are still to the left of the mainstream political parties, Republicans and Democrats alike. Our opening salvo was electing Obama. And Obama was all us; Hillary was the "establishment" choice. We elected the most liberal, connected candidate we could find.

    So yeah, I think we'd all just rather prefer if you guys would just get out of the way so we can get started on fixing your screwups.

  16. Elle Says:

    So yeah, I think we'd all just rather prefer if you guys would just get out of the way so we can get started on fixing your screwups.

    I've just had a flashback to myself, aged fourteen, eating my vegetarian Christmas lunch with the superiority of the just and moral. Bless.

  17. Elle Says:

    I'm surprised at much of the short-termist decision making that seems to have gone on in pension funds. I'm particularly surprised (although, given other ludicrously short-sighted decisions universities make, I probably shouldn't be) that a university would not envisage itself sticking around for long enough to make over-endowing the pension fund a sensible decision. Universities, after all, are long-run institutions.

  18. Bob Says:

    The only thing more vapid, shallow and annoying than Boomerism is Boomerism Backlash.

  19. BillCinSD Says:

    Wasn't the first part of the boomer generation (as a tail of the boomer generation guy, I'm hosed six ways from Sunday) the one that used to say never trust anyone over 30. That seems to me to be generationalism at its finest

  20. Voting Solves Nothing Says:

    Monkey Business Says:
    "Obama was all us; Hillary was the "establishment" choice. We elected the most liberal, connected candidate we could find."

    Actually, John Edwards was the most liberal, connected candidate in that field. He was the one who pulled the rest of the Democratic candidates to the left. Obama is nothing but another DLC Democrat.

  21. ts46064 Says:

    @Monkey Business
    Yeah well, we Gen Y'ers aren't guiltless either. We couldn't give a shit about anything but the Apple iWhatever, we use it for 2 years trow it away, buy the next apple product. We are bigger consumer whores that probably any other generation.
    We think tattoos and piercings are epitome of self expression and whenever an employer says we need to remove(temporarily) or cover them up we think its tantamount to Jim Crow.

    We think texting someone else conversing with another person face to face is an acceptable practice.

    Our music sucks for the most part.

    Hipsterism is rampant.

    There are many more examples

    Signed a Millennial.

  22. comrade x Says:

    Face it. You all suck…
    Yours truly, Comrade Embryo

  23. Tosh Says:

    Ok. Me: born in '46
    Didn't vote in '68 after BK assassination (too depressing). Voted solid Democratic from McGovern to Obama.
    Have a great retirement since '06 because a lot of teachers like me put their asses on the line while organizing for union representation in the late '60's early '70's.
    I despise what local and state governments are doing to public service retirement systems in my home state of PA. They are following the lead of industry and transferring from defined benefit to defined contribution programs.
    None of this shit will change until all of the following occurs (in no particular order);
    1. Present employees refuse to accept these cutbacks.
    2. Taxpayers decide to support public institutions and services through taxes.
    3. Voters elect people who support a workers right to organize and strike (if necessary) to determine conditions of work.
    Not bloody likely.
    Current polling in PA shows "Club for Growth" Republican Pat (Santorum) Toomey leading Democrat Sestak.
    Go fucking figure.

  24. anotherbozo Says:

    @Seth: Just getting back to the thread, probably too late.

    'Not quite, anotherbozo. Conservative philosophy says, "I've got mine, I'll take yours, and if you think you can stop me, go ahead and try." '

    A mere refinement, likewise the boomer philosophy, according to Ed. We've already taken "yours" by borrowing from the Chinese to pay for our free lunch. And of course they couldn't have stopped us.

  25. anotherbozo Says:

    Promising aricle in the latest Atlantic on boomers by Michael Kinsley – I haven't found out whether it's worthwhile or not.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/10/the-least-we-can-do/8228

  26. jjack Says:

    I read your piece on the "greatest generation" and while I agree with it, I will say that they were better than the boomers. Case in point: the interstate highway system.

    You have the depression/war era folks who won the war and got back and said "yeah, we rule, we can do anything! Let's build the world's best highway system!" so they did it, and by the time their kids were coming of age it was completed. But here, 35 years after the final links were in place, the Baby Boomers are letting the thing fall apart. "Thanks mom and dad for this awesome highway for me to drive my TT on! Oh, what, you mean I might have to pay my share to maintain it? Fuck that, let the thing collapse!"

  27. bb in GA Says:

    Maybe I've been sucked in by the propagandists, but I seem to remember the $1 Trillion (including interest) stimulus package touted by our President and the various Congresscritters was 'sposed to have a big slice devoted to infrastructural rescue, in general, and the Interstate Hwy system in particular. No?

    //bb

  28. ladiesbane Says:

    Honest question: what percentage of the US public has a pension? I'd like reliable figures showing how many pensioners are non-State, non-Fed, non-military retirees. Do regular jobs still offer pensions? Lots of older folks, caught between retirement and Medicare, call me in a panic because their pensions ran dry, and the medical insurance with it. Some of them had plans so rich they're not even offered anymore. Gone now.

    What is the purpose of a pension? Is it to encourage employee loyalty? I only ask because I recently had a coworker retire after being with the company since I was in grammar school. She did a horrible job, but never took a sick day, never was late, and that apparently rendered her immortal for office purposes. Screw up long enough and they call you experienced.

  29. Tim H. Says:

    The Atlantic essay anotherbozo gave the link for was worth the time. But I think they mostly mean the small percentage of boomers who studied the dark arts, oops, took MBAs when boomers are described as destroying the economy.

  30. The Man, The Myth Says:

    Hi folks. I understand your point in regards to the boomers. I think plenty of them are unhappy about the way pensions have worked out… just not the politicians. I'm a member of the "in between" classes (1980 was too late to fit in with the Gen X group and a little too early to grow up immersed in the Internet like the Gen Yers… though I guess I'm now a plugged in Gen Y person) I can analyze which generation was best in an objective manner.

    I like to contrast Europe with the U.S. post WWII. It is interesting because the Europeans had a chance to start from scratch, they chose an investment in urban areas. They pragmatically kept current buildings and invested in transportation that could be accessible to all people, poor and rich. On the other hand Americans chose highways. We got away from old city cores as fast as we could! My point is lets not forget that the "greatest generation" is equally as hideous as any other generation.

    I hope that Monkey Business is correct about the Gen. Y people. My opinion of mankind is pretty low – so I assume folks are all screwed up regardless of the generation…

  31. lisa Says:

    Gee, thanks for generalizing all of us into a big group of assholes.

    Fuck you. I'll go read Digby.

  32. Demograph Says:

    Does everyone here realize you're spouting about intergenerational resentment, envy, and aggression based on specious jargon and age-based categories that were invented and promulgated by newsmagazines and idiotic trend journalism? That thing you're all feeling is being a sucker. If they get you asking the wrong questions they don't have to worry about the answers.

  33. bb in GA Says:

    ladiesbane:

    "Employer provided retirement plans were a common employee benefit in the United States, available to 74 percent of all full-time workers in private industry in March 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics
    reported today."

    http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ebs2.pdf

    Pensions were a perk that grew in popularity out of the collective trauma of the Great Depression. When the good times returned, they became a selling point in the job competition for the security minded candidates.

    Many old school pensions were Defined Benefit Plans while most today are Defined Contribution Plans which are much simpler for the employer.

    The DBP effectively became golden shackles for mid-career people because many of the plans reduced your benefits and held off payment till 65 if you left early where you could collect full benefits w/ the required number of years worked as early as 55. Unlike todays DCPs, they were not portable and you did not own them.

    //bb

  34. Entomologista Says:

    When the Boomers were young, it was hip to bash old people. Don't trust anybody over 30, amirite! But now that they are old it is suddenly bigoted to hate on old people.

  35. Paul W. Luscher Says:

    Dude, dude, dude, get it right–it ain't a boomer thing, it's a REAGAN thing…

  36. Larkspur Says:

    "Dude, dude, dude, get it right–it ain't a boomer thing, it's a REAGAN thing…"

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  37. Xynzee Says:

    There's a Peanuts comic from the early 60s where Lucy is lamenting the world that they would inherit. In the final panel she concludes with "Stick it to the next generation!" (or something very close to that. Funny how omniscient Schultz was.

    If there's a generation that has a lot to answer for it's the Boomers. They went through and dismantled so many of societal structures leaving little if anything of value in their place. All that we have is a generation that only knows how to consume.

  38. mkf Says:

    this isn't a boomer problem–it's a human problem. by that i mean, humans are great at handling scarcity; it's abundance that brings out the worst in us. and it's all relative–there are billions of third-worlders out there who resent you just as much as you do the boomers, and for precisely the same reasons.