Why We Can’t Get Along

By Lloyd Graff

I admit I was surprised at the tempo and fervor of the comments on my last blog (“Working For Nothing“). I thought I was writing a little piece about the challenge to wages by technology. But what you, the readers, took off on was the generational divide, which apparently lurks below the economic and political issues of the day like an active volcano.

Younger folks see a structure rigged to protect the entrenched interests of fading older people who want all the goodies for themselves as they work longer than they should, and then draw on fat pensions. Older folks see yuppies who don’t want to pay their dues like they did. As the aging see their strength ebb they want to hang in there at all cost. Let the younger generation wait, they have time on their side.

The way the insurance companies played Obamacare only abets this drama, because its linchpin is that younger healthier people will support older sicker ones. But the younger folks have not followed the script, apparently shunning supposedly favorable rates and gambling that they can beat the game by staying healthy or trusting the emergency room at the hospital. Perhaps we would have been better served by Medicare for everyone, but in the end we are all stuck with the Obamacare compromise brokered by big insurance companies which everybody dislikes and the young are trying to game.

Then there is the minimum wage push, labeled “income equality,” by self-serving Democrats going into the next election. The statistics all show a widening gap between rich and poor, and a shrinking middle class. Today’s Europe has addressed income inequality with heavy progressive taxation and wealth redistribution through social programs. Americans still viscerally hate government intrusion, so European-style Socialism is generally still unpopular. But lousy entry level pay and a more distant path to a “middle class lifestyle” is pitting the young versus old in this country.

I see neither political party able to figure out how to maneuver the young versus old resentment because both are victims of their traditional cronies. Unions straddle the age divide, as the UAW Chattanooga vote epitomized. The young Volkswagen workers voted against the Union because they saw it as siding with the older $28 per hour workers in the North. Unions “talk the talk” for the poor but keep shrinking in popularity. But they are potent politically because they ladle a lot of money to politicians. Unions advocate prominently for a rise in the minimum wage, but the economists remind them it will shrink their memberships. The Republicans are not dead set opposed to a rise in minimum wage for exactly the same reason. They know it means more efficiency. Apple may make the next iPhone battery here, but it will be in a robotized factory. Tesla’s huge new battery plant will employ a few folks, but they will be sophisticated and well paid.

I am writing this piece at my local Starbucks. The $10 per hour employees, most of whom work less than 28 hours per week, are smart, personable and mostly on their way up. Many are in school. Few will make Starbucks a career. I do not see the resentment at Starbucks that appeared in the last blog, but now I know it seethes below the surface. But what really took me by surprise in the blog’s comments was the anger of the older folks–and they were all men, I think.

So I wonder whether the older guys, who used to have the economy all to themselves, may be resentful about the onslaught of smart younger women challenging them. Maybe we are labeling the conflicts as intergenerational and are missing an equally significant backlash against the tide of women making their mark in the economy.

Question:  What bugs you about older/younger workers?

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27 thoughts on “Why We Can’t Get Along

  1. Steve Ruoff

    I think the majority of the mid to older generation have worked long hard hours to get where they are to be successful and were willing to give up certain values to get ahead. With the mid to younger generation they have come accustomed to a have it all type of society and don’t seem to be as willing to sacrifice any of there time to get ahead like the older generation did. If there is a way to have your cake and eat it to I am all ears?

    1. Dave J

      Once again this comes down to the company and how the employees are treated. There are a lot of good young employees wanting to make a difference and willing to work to show their worth. What I have seen way to much of is the older employee who has been with a company a long time and they think they are entitled to something. I am in the 50+ age group and agree that the younger generation will never stack up to our standards, just ask our parents how they felt.

  2. Josh

    My initial response to your last post was initially about solutions to the completely mechanized and software powered work force we will see come into place over the next 50 years. Some serious solutions such as negative income taxes or basic minimum incomes are reasonable solutions to this problem, as I believe we will have to restructure society as a whole due to the destruction of the wages/hour model and the destruction of the typical “job.”

    My secondary point, as is evident by the responses I received is that solutions are largely impossible while the boomer generation is so attached to the dream of a “golden age” of America that they believe to have grown up in. It didn’t really exist as it is remembered, but that’s another issue. One can see clearly from the vitriolic responses(Jay Kay I’m lookin’ at you) that this is true. I was labeled a socialist, young, liberal, lazy, ignorant person looking for a handout for suggesting reasonable solutions to an oncoming problem. The person who launched these attacks knows nothing about me, but it’s clear he is attached to an archaic system that has to change somehow or we’ll end up in a 1984 or Elysium style society where the “have nots” are the majority and suffer scarcity to support a rich ruling class. That’s not the America I heard about, and yet it seems to be what many older generations want because they had some rough times?

    I guess what bugs me the most is that some in the older generation want younger workers to suffer because they had to. Have they forgotten their parents? The parents that wanted a BETTER life for their children than the struggles they had through the depression? Shouldn’t we as a society want to make life better and easier for EVERYONE? Apparently not, because those who have suffered presume that everyone else should have to suffer like them. Well that’s stupid, and counter-productive.

    People in this economy aren’t suffering because they’re lazy, no matter what you want to keep telling yourselves. They’re suffering because of the systematic destruction of systems and incomes that helped this country prosper immensely in favor of systems that serve primarily wealthy individuals. There is absolutely income redistribution in America and it’s from the bottom up! That’s why wages have stagnated for 3 decades due to economic policies put in place by the boomers. That’s why you need 2 people working full time to provide the same level of basic income in 2014 that was supplied by one earner in 1970. That’s why the lion’s share of economic growth in this country over the last 15 years has gone to the top tier of income earners while none has gone to the bottom 80 or 90 percent.

    In 1960 a CEO was worth 5 times his lowest paid employee, now they’re worth 500 times that lowest paid worker. Do you honestly think the CEO’s productivity has gone up that much in 5 decades or could it be that the system itself has become rigged in favor of the CEO?

    Whatever, this won’t be read by anyone who even remotely disagrees and it certainly won’t change any minds because I’m just the socialist, young, liberal, lazy, ignorant person looking for a handout. I certainly don’t read about this stuff all the time and I haven’t listened to several academic lectures with fact based analysis of these problems. Of course not, I’m just a young dumb liberal…. who thinks Obama is a bad president and both parties are absolutely corrupt.

    1. Kim

      Why should we be made to suffer? It’s not because our parents did or that they want us to because they did. It’s because through struggles, we learn problem solving skills and self reliance. The other night I listened to a lecture on how to raise self reliant children. One of the things she talked about is how when parents always step in and help, or just do it for them, without letting our children struggle, they don’t learn those skills. I think the same principle continues through our lives. If it’s always easy, and we don’t challenge ourselves, we don’t grow and don’t become self reliant. It’s not about working smarter than harder. It’s about stepping up to the challenge.

      I also believe we learn a better appreciation for the things we have and those who do the jobs we choose not to, if we have put in the hard work.

      I’m not sure which camp I fall in really, I’m too young to be the old generation, but at almost 40, I think I’m too old to really be the young generation. My grandmother lived through the Great Depression and instilled in my father principles of working hard, saving, and being prepared. I’ve never lived paycheck-to-paycheck, but I have lived without a car, TV or internet connection for some periods in the past. Though I have been unemployed more than once, the choices I make every day about how I live and spend my money have kept me from ever being broke or on public assistance.

      Josh, yes there are some people in this economy who are suffering even though they aren’t lazy. I don’t deny that I have been more fortunate than others. I’m healthy, I have a college degree, I’m employed and I have a stable and supportive family. A lot of people don’t have half of those things. I’m truly appreciative of those things I’m blessed with. There are however, some who are lazy, like my high school classmate with a PhD in biochemistry living it up as a ski bum on unemployment because he can. Then there are some who may not be lazy, but unwilling to make the hard changes necessary in their lives to improve their situation, whether it be moving to a new area, learning a new skill/trade, or accepting a pay cut.

  3. Bryan

    In my opinion, the younger generation is not willing to put the time in. I had a very new, young draftsman tell me once that he could do my job. I’m a PE. I said you don’t even have the degree to get the hiring manager to look at your resume to do my job. ‘Well that shouldn’t matter. If I can do your job, I should be able to apply for it.’ I will give him the fact that he was a very intelligent young man, he knew how to Google information and regurgitate other peoples knowledge, but could not caculate the yield strength of a material.

  4. Robert M

    Nothing “bugs” me about older or younger workers. We all have had the same expectations. Those close to retirement expect that they can retire in comfort after working hard their entire adult life and younger workers expect that they will be able to retire in comfort just as their parents did. However the days of someone retiring at 60 yrs of age and living off a pension for the next 30 year are over, unless you work for the government. The USA has the highest corporate tax rate in the world. Money that would otherwise have gone for business expansion and salary/benefit increases goes to Uncle Sam. Employers can no longer afford to build up their employees pensions. Health insurance costs have skyrocketed, thanks in part to the so called “Affordable Health Care Act”. This country has sold out to China and the only way manufacturing can survive in the USA is through automation. My advise to younger people is to train in robotic maintenance.

    1. Ron B

      ‘Money that would otherwise have gone for business expansion and salary/benefit increases goes to Uncle Sam’. I believe the numbers speak for themselves… record profits, record pay (for upper management only), flat wages, crumbling infrastructure etc… Businesses expand when there is a market for expansion. In your summary, the first thing to cut is investment for increased market share and fiscal health of your entire staff… but continue to increase the upper management compensation which creates no market expansion except perhaps in diamonds and furs. I (respectably) disagree.

  5. Tom Belville

    I am 60 and been at my present job for 36 years in May this year. I am looking forward to passing my job on to a younger person though right now the issue is insurance so does Obama got anything for me? If it were not for the stock market in 2008ish time frame I would have been gone at 55 and hey a young person could have gotten started that much sooner, oh yes insurance. Well give me a couple years the house will be paid off and I will be gone and pray for insurance or darn good health though I am not a betting man.

    1. Josh

      You go on medicare at 65. That’s socialized medicine, and it’s effective. You won’t have to pray for anything. 2008 had nothing to do with Obama.

      1. Greg Parker

        I don’t like the blame game of 2008 was not Obama’s fault comment above. Way too many people will do almost anything, even un-ethical to boost their political side. I am 50 and have worked on farms, resturants and gas stations before 20. I am very productive. I pick up litter I see on the road. If I make a mistake I own up to it. In an earlier comment, negative income tax, you mean give someone my money. I want no one to starve, but I want to see honest attempts for others to improve. With education, charter schools and private schools put out better students. But one party is too worried about union teachers than the children. Need to have honest talks about young un-married with children and abortion is not birth control. Simply creates the next generation of kids with an uphill battle. Wait until you have a child, that would not improve with money from parents, but once they received tough love they finished a program and got a job.
        Time for all to be honest with where your position in life is. I guarantee that you will not get your livable wage job, until you take the first job, get skills, and move up. I will help you, but not give you everything.

  6. Barb

    Well I am not sure if we can all get along, but I do know that we can learn from each other and with that abundance of knowledge the economical structure has a chance to survive and grow. I am 60 and a Baby Boomer and I do not intend to retire until I am 68. That is the plan anyway and of course this can change at any moment. I went to college when my youngest daughter was in college. I was not only the oldest in my classes, but in 95% of my classes I was the only woman. Was I intimidated…a little, but I wasn’t about to quit. I graduated with high honors in Manufacturing Management and I am a manager of a machine shop. I have learned a tremendous amount of machining knowledge from my boss, who is another generation older than myself and I also learned a tremendous amount from the younger generation in my college classes. Will all of us ever agree on all issues…No, but by gathering all ideas together, a lot can be resolved, but what do I know? I am just a mere woman.

  7. Don

    I hate to tell you but we have “negative income tax now, it’s pretty common for a young couple with children to receive a “refund” check for amounts greater than they paid in income tax. Remember as well, for over 4 consecutive years we’ve enjoyed more people becoming disabled than new jobs created. Many are young people stricken with maladies like chemical dependency, chronic depression and ADHD, and I think that sort of thing really bothers decent people.

    1. Ron B

      ‘I hate to tell you but we have “negative income tax now, it’s pretty common for a young couple with children to receive a “refund” check for amounts greater than they paid in income tax’. I don’t know how you translate ‘common’ but this has to be the very rarest of occurrences (in my mind). It really bothers me when people make suggestive statements without resources. My only resource pertaining to your statement is in life itself… I have NEVER known anyone who received a larger return than paid… NEVER. Perhaps someone with experience could give us an unbiased appraisal of this suggestion… not just flap from FOX News.

  8. Jim Goerges

    I find Lloyd’s comments regarding facts a bit humorous in the article that kinda leads a person to answer in a biased way. For example, “Then there is the minimum wage push, labeled “income equality,” by self-serving Democrats going into the next election. The statistics all show a widening gap between rich and poor, and a shrinking middle class. Today’s Europe has addressed income inequality with heavy progressive taxation and wealth redistribution through social programs. Americans still viscerally hate government intrusion, so European-style Socialism is generally still unpopular. But lousy entry level pay and a more distant path to a “middle class lifestyle” is pitting the young versus old in this country.”

    I see “Europe in a huge financial struggle trying to rid itself of cost.” Maybe Greece, Italy and Spain are not a part of Europe.” So it seems the reality of how they have addressed things doesn’t really work that well now does it…, hmmmmm.

    An area that hasn’t been talked about is the innovation in the United States. This has been the great equalizer in combating many years of outsourcing and today this resource is showing up all over the world. However, these idea generator’s in the world are quite capitalistic in there approach and ownership of ideas! Wouldn’t you think that with all the socialism that you talk about these people would be more willing to share the wealth in these European areas. Gosh, how great thou art and guess what, they are not any better then the heathen’s in America! So why do you want to copy them? They are trying to copy us! There systems don’t work very well! Live there for awhile and find out for yourself! I would like to call upon the readership to see if we can get some one way tickets for Greece for those of you that find America disturbing, maybe you’ll learn to love it! I am raising my glass to you all, YASAS!

  9. Lloyd Graff

    Hey Don, it certainly is a wonderful thing that “decent” people like YOU don’t catch any nasty things like alcoholism, drug addiction, depression and, oh yes, ADHD which is sort of like TB, Don, right?

  10. Big Al

    I think the biggest problem is not enough young people going into the sciences and math to replace all the “old buggers” like me. Education is the key and our policy makers have failed all of us miserably.

  11. Emily

    I’m sure I could come up with a lot of things to complain about, but what’s on my mind currently is the financially illiterate behavior of younger people and the lack of understanding of “needs” versus “wants.”

    I’m sure much of it is our own fault, but I know our capitalist economy, whose job it is to convince us that we need their products, is to blame too. As well as a lack of addressing this basic but important topic in depth in school. Not every kid will use geometry, or will need a deep understanding of 18th century English literature, but every single person in the U.S. will eventually need credit, will own a credit card or have an account with some sort of interest, and will want to retire. And these basic aspects of life are generally ignored or just brushed over in school. When I think about how many times over the years I studied the Civil War in school, and how unhelpful and basic my one semester of Consumer Ed was, I get really pissed off.

    It scares me how few people understand why credit card interest compounds so rapidly, what an IRA is, and how that $200,000 house will cost you $500,000 by the time it’s paid off.

    Asking for more money is half of the equation. Understanding how to make your money work for you and what is really necessary in life is a lesson many young people will not have the joy of learning. The concept of financial freedom seems foreign to my generation.


    1. Kim

      Emily, I completely agree with you. Money management and better understanding “wants” and “needs” is certainly lacking. It seems every time I read a story about someone struggling, there’s always something they say about what they have or a bill unpaid that drains all the sympathy and brings out the trolls in the comments. It could be a $400 cable bill, expensive cell phone plan, luxury vehicle lease or underwater loan on their McMansion.

      Sadly I don’t think this is just the younger generation. We are a nation living paycheck-to-paycheck, using our home equity as an ATM. The problem is that we know the more we get people to buy stuff, it helps the economy can get back on it’s feet, but if we’re buy stuff with money we shouldn’t be spending or don’t have, it’s not really a solution and not sustainable in the long run.

  12. Mark Ellenberger

    I think America is being systematicly fleeced of it’s most important resources. The consolidation that has occured in every field that made us the top manufacturer. Who now owns Cincinnattii, K&T, and Fadal? Reliance, and Baldor electric? Our bearing companies? Square D? Westinghouse? Just a hand full are left. The traditional saving plan is toast. 401s have been shoved down our throats, as pension plans have been “fleeced”, I mean eliminated. My point, and I’m 55, is both the baby boomers and the younger generation can no longer rely on our system. We will not get to graze in a pasture. We will maybe see the fruits of our labor if someone else doesn’t get them first. There is still some solidity to our Democracy and only because a few have invested wisely. Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and because this is about machining, Gene Haas, and Gerald Roch of Hurco. There are some Ultra wealthy who care about the average family, and even that “the average family” is being eliminated. The anger young and old is not being able to do anything about it. Only when our bellies are empty will we try.

  13. Ron B

    It would seem the older conservatives are willing to sell out their own offspring… or perhaps they had no children… too much money. Enjoy that fat pension alone with your cats (poor kitties).

  14. bob morgan

    The simple fact that we have created more new disabled people than new workers in the last 4 years speaks for itself. There is no way to spin the entitlements as helping anyone except those in government who use these handouts to buy votes. The brain cells formerly used to learn a trade have been redirected toward gaming the entitlement system. In what may be a bit of a revelation to some of you, the world economy that has brought cheap goods to our neighborhood Walmart will now siphon away the talent it needs to maintain dominance and no political party or special interest group can stop it. This was how the US became great and maintained greatness, by attracting the best from around the world. Now it is pure capitalist competition that will lure away the best to more favorable economies. I know, my trade with my skill set in manufacturing engineering is now more desired and compensated in countries other than the US. And forget about this standard of living crap as many foreign destinations exceed the US in prosperity. With the swelling of entitlements and class conflict (thanks Obama!!!!!) this system has little hope of surviving. The highest corporate income tax in the world has already brought tangible consequences (GE getting a net tax credit??????) with more excitement to come. Good luck US, I’ll check in someday to see how you are doing.

  15. Dick Crosby

    There’s a relatively new futuristic term being tossed around these days. TEM boom!
    Technology. Energy. Manufacturing. It’s short for the concept that these areas are where the future is either at now, or soon will be. And it’s all happening right here, now, in the good ole USA. American inventors, entrepenurial crazys (Like Gates, and lots of others), science and engineering school kids, and their mentors, are coming up with, and bringing on board, a whole new world of products and services that will change the way we live and have lived. We/you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!
    My concern is that slow moving government, at virtually every level, continues to be in the way of progress. The public educational system is a dinosaur, and apathy abounds with a huge segment of our population. The work ethic seems to be somewhat scarce.
    Add those elements to the apparent fact we’ve lost our moral compass, and you’ve got
    big time problems. By the grace of God, this nation will survive, and will still be where the rest of the world wants to come to. Even while they hate our guts.
    Watch for it! TEM BOOM. It’s headed your/our way. Lucky us!

  16. Craig

    The only problem I have with most of those half my age is that they are nearly as naive and arrogant as I was when I was when walking around handicapped by inexperience…so much for evolution!
    Seems history just can’t help but repeat.


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