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Op-Ed: Baby Boomers Led Us Into Fiscal, Moral Bankruptcy


But now is the time to change the course.

Editor's Note: James Quinn is a senior director of strategic planning for a major university. James has held high level financial positions with a retailer, homebuilder and a university in his 22-year career.

The Baby Boom Generation will never be mistaken for the Greatest Generation - the one that survived the Great Depression and won World War II. I hate to tell you, Boomers, but putting a yellow ribbon on the back of your $50,000 SUV doesn't count as a sacrifice. Our claim to fame is living way beyond our means for the last 3 decades, and we've virtually bankrupted our capitalist system.

Baby Boomers have been occupying the White House for the last 16 years. The majority of Congress is Baby Boomers. The CEOs and top executives of Wall Street firms are Baby Boomers. The media is dominated by Baby Boom executives and talent. We have no one to blame but ourselves for the current predicament. Baby Boomers had the time, power, and ability to change our course. We have chosen to leave the heavy lifting to future generations in order to live the good life today.

Of course, not all Baby Boomers are shallow, greedy, and corrupt. Mostly Boomers with power and wealth fall into this category. There were 76 million Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1963; they now make up 28% of the U.S. population. Their impact on America is undeniable: The Kennedy assassination, Vietnam, Kent State, Woodstock, the first man on the moon, and now the collapse of our Ponzi-scheme financial system.

They rebelled against their parents, protested the Vietnam War, and settled down in 2,300 square foot cookie-cutter McMansions with perfectly manicured lawns in mall-infested suburbia. They've raised overscheduled, spoiled children, moved up the corporate ladder by pushing paper rather than making things, lived beyond their means in order to keep up with the neighbors, bought whatever they wanted by going into debt, and never worried about the future. Over-optimism, unrealistic assumptions, selfishness and conspicuous consumption have been their defining characteristics.

Boomers are currently in their prime earning and spending years. A Baby Boomer turns 50 years old every 7 seconds. The older Boomers had a fantastic run from 1989 through 2004. Median net worth for those between the ages of 55 and 59 rose 97% over those 15 years, to $249,700. Median income rose 52%.

The younger generation, those between 35 and 39, saw their median net worth fall 28%, to $48,940. Their median income dropped 10% over the same 15-year period.

It's clear that all Baby Boomers are not created equal. Based on calculations made by the Federal Reserve, at least 50% of Boomers won't have a happy retirement. The bottom 30% will reach the age of 65 with a net worth of less than $100,000. They will try to subsist in poverty, dependent upon Social Security and part time Wal-Mart jobs until they die peniless. The top 30% will retire to lives of luxury and leisure. The middle 40% will muddle through with on Social Security payments - the only thing keeping them from an old age in poverty.
No positions in stocks mentioned.

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