Tom Brokaw in a recent AARP op-ed piece pointed to the obvious fact that as the Boomers retire they’re going to change our social and economic reality in profound ways. Lots of others are predicting the coming crunch associated with questions of how to pay astronomical healthcare and Social Security costs with a shrinking workforce and tax base. Consider that about 4 or 5 of us have supported one retiree over the course of most of our career. When we retire, a couple of our offspring will be supporting us—as well as paying additional costs for energy, security and cleaning up and protecting the environment. You don’t need a Ph.D. in economics to realize that something doesn’t add up.
Brokaw rightly suggests that we’re either going to have a lot of displaced suffering older people or a lot of overstretched and overtaxed younger people (or probably both). He reflects on the Depression era and World War II as times in recent history where Americans faced and overcame what seemed like impossible challenges—and they did it because they ‘pulled together’ and shared the pains as well as the gains. While American Democracy has been a model for the world, its strength lies not in its victories, but in how it has met its challenges. We’ve faced Civil War, we’ve confronted corruption, incompetence and even criminal behavior among our leaders, and we’ve been threatened from within and without. The Depression, World Wars and, most recently, terrorism have nearly bankrupted our treasury. We’ve been at the top by nearly every indices of social and economic heath, and recently we’ve watched our nation lose ground by those same indicators.
The power that has driven our accomplishments is the commitment of individuals and individual freedom. But the passion, the heart and the soul of what makes our individual success worth it is in our communities and our solidarity as Americans. Today we are at a tipping point where our potential for individual action is more empowered than at any time in the past. At the same time, we are facing a multitude of social and community problems that are seemingly intractable and, if unresolved, could undermine the American Dream and destroy whatever possibilities we have.
Our current demographic reality is either an opportunity for bringing us together or it is the straw that could very well break the camel’s back—literally (you know, the one on the dollar bill). Tom Brokaw suggests that if we don’t pull together—not just the older folks, but all folks of all ages—our future is probably going to be very bleak for all but the very wealthy. On the other hand, if we do collaborate in creating a future that works for everyone, then while we also can’t imagine that future, it will be a future worth working for.
It is for each of us to choose—individually—where we stand and what future we are we going to help bring about. Are we an America divided by ideology, religion, economic wherewithal, age and class—or are we one people, one nation, united in our commitment to America and the possibility we are as a society of the people, by the people and for the people?
Choose. The future depends upon it.