A lot of us codgers are sorely tempted to sing, in a fit of melancholic nostalgia, that we’re glad we’re not young any more.
Particularly not if The Times’ Paul Krugman and other soothsayers are right in raising storm signals about inflation, even a “depression.”
This isn’t another piece about how rough things were back in the day. Yes, our generation suffered the catastrophe of Vietnam, of great leaders assassinated, and we lived through civil and social unrest and violence, some of it murderous.
But in other ways, life wasn’t bad. College tuition was affordable. Graduates mostly wondered not how to find a job, but which offers to turn down. Employment often came with health care, pensions and life insurance pro-vided by the company at no cost to the employee.
In those long-ago days, graduates – high school, trade school, college – sought careers. Today they just want a job.
That seems the last of an era when the workplace could seem like a family rather than a place to put in time for a paycheck. In those days, people could walk into a store, or a bank, or even a doctor’s office, and sense a close-ness among people who worked there, we’re all in this together, they seemed to be saying, and we care what hap-pens to each other.
Today brings new worries. Inflation, for one big item, is again a concern. It has crept into lives slowly on padded feet, increasing prices of goods and costs of services to ever-rising extremes: an invoice for a family’s health insurance can outdistance the bill for income taxes; for Medicare patients, the price of supplemental insurance has doubled in five years.
For consumers of all stripes, it takes at least seven dollars to buy what a dollar bought fifty years ago.
In Kansas then, someone who earned $10,000 a year was considered well off; a $30,000 home was something only the wealthy dreamed about.
Today, a modest new car costs as much as yesterday’s mortgage and that shanty in old shanty town likely has a $200,000 price tag and try to find the money. (Double the home price, or the rent, if you’re thinking Denver or Kansas City. Forget about New York or San Francisco.)
This is no time for a depression because we can’t afford one. The markets seem to be rolling along well enough for those who have large nest eggs; for the rest, there is serious question whether the moral stamina exists to withstand extreme economic disparity. Regions of America have grown so dissimilar that they have evolved as detached cultures with separate and dissimilar economies.
A friend once remarked about the northeast not long after he moved there: “There are a lot of things to do for free in New York, but living isn’t one of them.”
Meanwhile we go on, the torch is passed to a new and uncertain generation. Today’s young adults no longer won-der when to have a family, but whether they could ever afford to start one, of if they can keep the ones they have started fed and clothed and off to school. Their parents once felt deprived if the color went off balance in their TVs.
Today, America is off balance. No one seems to know, or care, how to put it right.