July 13, 2024

Boomers get retirement. Millennials get their debt

You’ll probably never meet a more idealistic generation than baby boomers. Or a more financially irresponsible one.

Statistics Canada says the inevitable has finally happened: Baby Boomers no longer rule the landscape like some ravenous but well-meaning tyrannosaur. Sometime before last July 1, the agency says, the number of millennials in Canada passed the number of leftovers from the postwar generation.

For the first time since 1958, when my generation became the country’s largest, Canada’s average age has declined. We’re getting older, the country is getting younger. Boomers out, millennials, gen Z, gen X, gen etc. in.

All I can say is, given the legacy they’re getting, I hope they’re not the vindictive sort. There’s not much they can do about it, anyway. We’ve done a pretty good job of feathering our nests, while leaving behind the bills. We’ve got the houses, which keep going up in value, they’ve got the national debt, which pretty much does the same. We’ve got investments, benefits, Old Age Security. They’ve got inflation, high interest rates, a health-care system in crisis thanks, to considerable extent, to the cost of keeping us upright.

We could afford big families. In 1958 Canada’s birth rate was 27.2 per 1,000 people. Last year it was 10.1, and even at that low rate, try to find affordable daycare. For us, a first-timer’s home had three bedrooms and a back yard. For younger generations, how’s 600 square feet on the sixth floor sound? And you have to work there, too.

Honestly, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. You’ll probably never meet a more idealistic generation. Maybe we didn’t invent the social welfare system, but we grabbed it and ran. Universal health care. A national pension plan. Generous unemployment cheques. Student loans, childcare payments. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it all cost money, but why should we care? We were young, we were optimistic, there’d be lots of money, from somewhere.

There was a war on, and even though it wasn’t ours, we were against it. We were for civil rights. We liked to protest, to show how progressive we were. (Actually, we said “liberal,” not “progressive,” but somehow “liberal” got to be a bad term, so now we’re not that.) We demonstrated, we waved signs. Give peace a chance. Make love, not war. Sit-ins. Bed-ins. The Beatles, hippies, Woodstock, feminism, bralessness. How liberated could you get?

Somewhere along the line things seem to have gone astray. How? Don’t ask. Maybe idealism on its own just isn’t enough. People have to go to work, costs have to be covered, and why should we pay it all ourselves when we can demand the government do it? Annual deficits, and Canada’s federal debt, started taking off in the early 1960s, as boomers were entering their prime spending years.

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