You might get what you need

  • Photo 1 of 2

    Galen Davis, his wife, and their three-year-old son

    - Nancy Marshall Genzer

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    Steven Snodgrass and his wife in their kitchen.

    - Nancy Marshall Genzer


Scott Jagow: We're continuing our look at the financial crisis. We've been doing this series, Interested Parties, talking to different voting groups about their priorities in this election.

Baby Boomers always get a lot of attention from the candidates, but what about Boomer children? They're young adults now.

Nancy Marshall Genzer talked to a couple of Boomer kids about what they want.

[Music]: "You Can't Always Get What You Want" by The Rolling Stones

Nancy Marshall Genzer: In the late 1960s, boomers sang along with this Rolling Stones hit, even though they never really believed the song applied to them. They almost always got what they wanted. The boomers' kids paid more attention to this part of the song.

[From song]: "But if you try sometimes you might find, you get what you need."

The boomers' more realistic offspring say the only way they'll get what they need is through their own hard work and savings.

Steven Snodgrass: I'm not really counting on the government.

That's Steven Snodgrass.

Galen Davis: I try not to count on the government for much of anything.

That's Galen Davis. They're on opposite sides of the country. They're both in their 30s. Snodgrass lives in Hyattsville, Maryland; Davis in Sunnyvale, California. I spoke with Snodgrass on a Wednesday night as he and his wife were getting their two kids ready for school the next day.

Snodgrass's daughter: What do we have for lunch tomorrow?

Davis took time out for our interview the next morning, before he and his wife bundled their 3-year-old off to daycare and headed to work.

Davis is a marketing manager for a Silicon Valley company. Snodgrass works for the National Endowment for the Humanities. Their fear that they can't count on the government for anything is based on predictions that Social Security and Medicare will buckle as their parents start to retire. But they do wish the government would take some incremental steps. Snodgrass and Davis both mention healthcare a bunch of times. Snodgrass is most concerned about long-term care.

Snodgrass: If the government could come up with a savings account for long-term care that maybe could be transferred from one family member to another -- OK, your mom doesn't need it, maybe your dad does.

Davis worries about seniors who retire before they're eligible for Medicare. He'd like the government to guarantee that they wouldn't be wiped out if, say, they broke a hip while uninsured.

Davis: Some kind of catastrophic insurance or something. Maybe if there was a nationalized catastrophic plan. That might be the answer.

Davis also favors subsidized nursing home care. He says if he knew his parents would have these kinds of health benefits, it would be easier for him to plan his family's financial future. As it is, he's set up a savings account for his father in secret.

Davis: He's got a lot of pride, so telling him that I'm doing it will probably start a fight.

Davis says this struggle could have been avoided if his father had been forced to save. He'd like the government to require employers to automatically enroll workers in 401(k) plans. Snodgrass wishes the government would give employers incentives to offer better retirement benefits.

Economists say boomers' kids should save all the money they can because they might have to prop up their parents. Dean Baker is an economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Dean Baker: Many of the boomers are going to be hitting retirement with very little resources other than Medicare and Social Security, which means that a) they'll be struggling through their retirement years, and b) they'll certainly have nothing to pass onto their kids.

Except record-high federal budget deficits.

Laurence Kotlikoff: The country has been engaged in fiscal child abuse for about five decades.

Laurence Kotlikoff teaches economics at Boston University. He says the boomers' kids should be asking the government to trim the deficit.

Kotlikoff: And the bills have been left, by and large, to future generations, including the boomers' children.

Thinking about all the burdens on his generation, Snodgrass says wistfully he'd like a safety net from the government like universal healthcare. Davis wants some sort of government backstop, like the catastrophic insurance he mentioned. Neither one thinks he'll get what he wants.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace Money.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.
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Short-form journalism really only allows for one narrative thread, so any nuance and a lot of subtlety will necessarily be cut. This is a topic that could employ whole research staffs for years. I think the article is valuable and contributes to the marketplace of ideas on this topic. I'm very happy I could contribute.

My interview with Nancy went for about 80 minutes and covered a lot of ground. I knew the vast majority of it would not be included. If I was a politician, I would have prepared in such a way that there were usable soundbites throughout and been more consistent in pushing a more focused point of view. Alas, I am not a politician.

Anyway, Nuance Number 1: I do not believe that the Baby Boomers are an especially selfish generation. I do believe that the generation immediately preceding them was scarred by a number of existential threats -- complete economic collapse (the Depression), the rise of Fascism (World War II), and nuclear Armageddon. These threats produced a period of policy-making that invested heavily in both physical and social infrastructure that was largely future-oriented. I, personally hope that no other generation ever has to be as self-sacrificing.

Nuance No. 2: I am not for the government forcing savings upon people. What I stated was that I believe it is useful to make "virtuous" behavior -- i.e. savings, healthy lifestyles -- the default and using bureaucratic hassles to keep more people on this path. In other words, everyone saves by default, unless you fill out a form to stop it.

Nuance Number 3: I don't know what a better health care system looks like. I'm pretty sure it's not the Canadian or European systems. However, what we have right now is not efficient and not comprehensive enough. We have a collective interest in health care, but ours is a highly individualized, diverse society. Also, I believe that adopting the systems of other developed countries will destroy innovation in medicine globally. We're really trying to thread a needle here.

Finally, I am not at all resentful of the Boomers. The social changes they forced as they came of age have enriched me beyond belief. One more thing -- my formative years were in the 80s and early 90s. I kept hearing how government was not the answer to our problems and how my generation was going to have to pay for the debt. Is it that surprising that some of us were listening?

Are the baby boomers the last group of people that are the acceptable targets of mass "trashing"?

I don't understand these comments. The vast majority of my friends and I have lived well within our means and at the same time, during our lifetimes, real incomes have stagnated, the costs of college tuitions and healthcare have gone through the roof, we've moved from defined benefit plans to 401(k)s and have seen our gains lost over and over again. . .

Who are these phantom boomers that you're talking about? Who is it that almost always "got what they wanted?"

Rebecca Shannon
Born 1951

I am a recent immigrant to the USA and am appaled by the lack of public healthcare. Since when does a private company have the interest of its custumers in mind? Why would private insurance give good healthcare when they mainly have their own bottom line in mind? Competetiveness brings out the lowest denominator, but is this also the best quality? If yes, why do not buy the cheepest furnitur and plastic items from China and think that this is the best? I think the USA should have a socialized healthcare. Socialized does not mean bad government and services, it means that we the people are taking care of us the people and monitoring what the people that we put in charge are doing. If we fail to monitor and as a result things get out of hand, only we the people are to blame for our laziness. So, I would like to see socialized medicine and socialized retirement.

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