NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 4, 2005

Baby boomers need to resist the narcissistic impulse to ladle out more resources for themselves, says New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof. As a boomer himself, Kristof fears his generation will not be remembered as the "Greatest Generation," but scorned as the "Greediest Generation."

Historically in America, the people most likely to be poor were the elderly. But Medicare and Social Security adjustments have steadily reduced poverty among seniors, says Kristof. We were suitably embarrassed that old people were eating cat food or scavenging garbage cans for food, he says, so we reallocated resources to the elderly.

While the drop in poverty among seniors is a huge national success, very little attention has been given to reducing poverty among children, he says:

  • In 1966, 29 percent of Americans over 65 were below the poverty line, compared with only 18 percent of American children.
  • As of 2003, the share of elderly below the poverty line had fallen by two-thirds to 10 percent, but the proportion of children below the poverty line is still 18 percent.

With boomers about to retire, Kristof is afraid national priorities will be focused even more powerfully on the elderly rather than the young because it's the elderly who wield political clout, not children.

Kristof says boomers are also preying on children in a more insidious way by running up their debts, both by creating new entitlement programs and by running budget deficits today. By all means, helping seniors is a good cause, he says, but American children are almost twice as likely as the elderly to live in poverty and "you get much more bang for the buck vaccinating a child than paying for open-heart surgery."

The solution is not to force the elderly to get by on cat food again, he says. Our top domestic priorities should be to ensure all children get health care and to get our fiscal house in order. Otherwise, boomers may earn a place in history as the worst generation.

Source: Nicholas D. Kristof, 'The Greediest Generation,' New York Times, May 1, 2005.

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