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?