Reading Frank Bruni's recent op-ed column entitled "Dear Millennials, We're Sorry," you'll get the same self-serving back and forth between those apologizing for the arrogance of the 40+ crowd and their hubris, and the self-centered rantings of the ignorant "self-starters" -- those who are under the delusion that they somehow made it without help and all the rest of us can too.
The focus of Mr. Bruni's compassion, however, is this imagined generation of children who are 15 and will inherit all of these political responsibilities in ten or twenty years. Only lip service is paid to those of us who are underwater right now. The truth is that this isn't about some future generation, it's about a current generation. My generation. I am on the cusp of Gen-X and Gen-Y. I grew up in the '90s when there seemed to be unlimited opportunities and the only rhetoric of exclusion came from Republicans railing about the drain on our society of "welfare queens" -- code for poor black people. I was told I was special, I was told to follow my bliss, and I went into the performing arts knowing it would be a hard road, but being told that if I worked hard and persevered I could make a reasonable living.
Then the economy began to slow down. I'm not sure exactly when it happened, so I can't entirely blame it on Bush. A lot of factors went into it -- not the least of which was NAFTA and the corporate pillaging of the American consumer market -- but when the Twin Towers went down and our economy froze while we dealt with our collective grief, it signaled a dramatic shift in everything. Job fairs on college campuses were cancelled. The decline of middle-class jobs that had already begun further spiraled out of control. That was the state of things when I graduated from college. It was easy to loose sight of what was happening over the course of the 2000s, given the constant state of fear and aggression we lived in. The rise of right-wing media gave us a faux-patriotism that masked racism, xenophobia, isolationism, and aggressive nationalism -- at least to those too self-involved to pay attention. The public discourse went through ten years of having a president who didn't believe in climate change and whose answer to the ills of society was to revert to nineteenth-century myths of Norman Rockwell hometowns and families gathered for prayer before dinner.
Then the economy crashed in 2008, and those of us who had cobbled together careers suffered again. We were too old and had too much responsibility to partners and families to take minimum wage jobs. Many of us moved home to save money but never managed to save enough or get enough ahead on loan payments to leave again. Those of us who worked for nonprofits or for the arts have had to watch as philanthropy was destabilized and shrank. Union contract disputes led to strikes and lockouts and the discourse in our own corner of the world took on the same anti-labor rhetoric of those who favored the [myth] of the "free market."
There is no argument over "future generations," grandpa, we're already here. A lot of people in their thirties are struggling, have struggled for more than a decade, and are ignored because we aren't fresh faced high school grads or tweens at basketball camp. Instead we had to suffer through the nonsense of being told we had to be "self-starters" and "entrepreneurs," all dumbed down business-school language used to excuse the lack of access to the good paying jobs our parents had or which we trained for. I am part of Gen-Nowhere, the group that gets ignored.
The most disappointing thing about Bruni's misplaced compassion is that it relies on tired language of "free market" delusions -- that social assistance to the elderly is what's strangling our economic growth while privileging the aged over the young. That simply doesn't hold water. For however much these programs makeup our national debt, they also pay directly into the economy. No one is "saving" or "stockpiling" their Social Security or Medicare money. Furthermore, I don't understand how those programs wouldn't function exactly like food stamps or unemployment insurance in terms of generating capital. According to a Moody's study, every dollar spent on food stamps results in $1.73 return to the economy, and unemployment benefits results in $1.64 return.
What's more, the answer to keeping those programs solvent isn't shrinking them so we don't have to borrow in order to keep them running. The answer is removing the cap on Social Security tax, which freezes the amount of tax paid by those earning -- in 2014 - $117,000 or more. Second, end government subsidies to oil companies, which are still over $10 billion a year. Third, raise the effective tax rate -- note this requires you to recognize that no one with the money to create tax havens and hire tax lawyers pays their full rate as is -- for those in the top 1 percent. How are we a nation of 450+ billionaires, yet people in my generation who have college degrees are on food stamps to feed their families? The effective tax rate -- which averages about 15 percent -- of the top earners in our country is at the lowest in the history of the income tax. The reason America can't do big things these days is because we've committed $3 trillion to fighting in and then rebuilding foreign nations over the last ten years, and because somehow we were convinced of the delusion that rich people are the victims of brown and black people who want to steal everything from suburban white people. Eisenhower, on the other hand, raised the top tax rates to 90 percent to pay for the interstate highway system, infrastructure that is now crumbling. Still, we have enough tax money to spend $1 billion in Iraq, yet, we can't have high-speed rail between DC and NYC?
I could go on, of course, from Elizabeth Warren's plan for reducing federal loan interest rates to the rate given to huge banks borrowing from the feds, to shifting part of our $800+ billion in military spending to help cities contract to repave their roads with those new solar panel tiles that went viral a few weeks ago. None of that helps our immediate future. You want to know why 30-somethings are apathetic? Why 25-35 year olds aren't exercising our political will? It's because you exercised your will and we had to sit and watch the catastrophes you created. Then when we were supposed to transition into some power, you ignored us and fantasized about saving your imagined children from the future. Thanks for not helping, Mr. Bruni. Like you said about climate change, too little, too late.