Sunday, November 01, 2009

NYT: "What a Difference a Year Makes" - Was 1957 Really a Lucky Year in Which to Be Born?

There was a piece in The New York Times that tried to make the point that 1957 was an exceptionally lucky year in which to be born, based on the experiences of one white male Republican who lives in upstate New York named Harry MacAvoy.

Speaking as a person who was also born in 1957, I don't completely disagree with him, but it's amazing how much he's missed. It's like this man has been sleepwalking for 52 years (or, say, 47 years, since most of us don't remember that much of the first five years of our lives).

On the one hand, he's certainly right that people who were in college between about 1973 and 1982 had it easy in so many ways. We had most of the advantages of the sexual revolution and almost none of its disadvantages. But MacAvoy managed to miss the whole spectre of AIDS that later hit many of our generation, and certainly impacted those who were in college after us.

MacAvoy said, “We completely missed the upheaval of the 60s, the Vietnam protests on campus, the draft...and (I consider myself) lucky to have been young in the 1960s, so as not to have been traumatized by the Kennedy and King assassinations." Did he live in a household without television or newspapers in the '60s and '70s? Many of us were very much impacted by the civil rights revolution, the feminist revolution, the frequent assasination of leaders. Many of us who had secure lives suburbs still felt some of that upheaval even if we were children at the time. Not everyone born in 1957 was so completely lacking in empathy.

It wasn't always an easy thing to buy a house in the '80s. After years of so-so jobs, my husband and I both got decent jobs, part of the great high tech boom in Massachusetts. We couldn't afford our first house until 1987. And as there was a housing recession in the early '90s, we lost money when we sold our first house when my husband took a new job in Pittsburgh. For that matter, we lost a little money when we sold our second house in 2006, and our current home is worth less than it was in 2006. Luckily, my husband's job is reasonably secure, and the Pittsburgh housing market hasn't collapsed the way it has in many other places in the country.

Unlike a man long employed at the public trough like Harry MacAvoy, our retirement certainly won't happen in our 50s.
But unlike many people in their 50s now, we still have the likelihood of a reasonably comfortable retirement when we're in our 60s. We have always invested in 401ks, and didn't panic last year when the markets collapsed. But I know people around my age who were wiped out by the market collapse, some of whom are unemployed on top of that. For them, being born in 1957 has hardly been lucky. They may remember good-paying jobs and employer-paid insurance as a memory. They may be hoping to stay reasonbly healthy until they're old enough for Medicare. Given the Republican-driven misinformation about government-run health care over the last 30 years, that's all they can hope for.

So, sure, it was great to be a kid when we had a space program that was regularly breaking new ground, and when the GE ride at the 1964-65 World's Fair (later copied at the Disney parks) promised us "A great big beautiful tomorrow." While many things have improved over time, we have to be realistic that as some parts of society has witnessed continued improvement, many groups in society are still being left behind.