Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Baby Boomers on Social Security

On the news this morning I saw that the first official "Baby Boomer," Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, applied for Social Security benefits yesterday, signaling the start of a new kind of surge - the rush of boomers to tap Social Security. A retired teacher from New Jersey, Casey-Kirschling was born one second past midnight on January 1st, 1946, in Baltimore, MD.

This news got me thinking about my own place in the post-World War II "Baby Boom," which ostensibly lasted from 1946 until 1964. Some historians argue that the boom really applies only to those born prior to 1956, a group that was eligible for the draft during Vietnam. Obviously coming of age in the late 50s and confronting Vietnam on the cusp of adulthood represent significant influences for that generation. But do I, born early in 1964, really have much in common with someone born in 1946 or even the early 50s, for that matter? I don't really have a sense of shared experience with the Vietnam generation.

I guess from a purely statistical standpoint 1964 represented the final peak for the surge in the birthrate that followed World War II. And we all know the extent to which that population explosion changed the United States in every facet of society. But abandoning the demographers' pronouncements, I think experiential reference points perhaps better define the cohort to which we belong. Although I remember Vietnam, vaguely, along with the Apollo moon landings, and, just barely, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy, I have stronger memories of Watergate, Nixon's resignation, and events of the mid-1970s and after. So maybe those of us born from about 1960 until 1970 represent an altogether different group from the true "Baby Boomers." Indeed, now in our late 30s and late 40s, we seem to be stuck between the "Baby Boomers" and the "Echo Boomers," the children of "Baby Boomers" who were part of a second surge in the birth rate that began in the early 1970s. And we're definitely not a part of the much ballyhooed "Generation X" which is now slogging through their 30s.

Using this experiential model we could include Watergate, the Bicentennial, Carter's election, the Iran Hostage Crisis and the Reagan years as benchmark events in our development. They certainly meant more to me in terms of first-hand experience than the Eisenhower years, Vietnam, JFK, or the Civil Rights Movement. Indeed, the post-1960 crowd only reaped the rewards - beneficial or otherwise - from those events so ascribed as defining elements in the "boomer" experience.

Regardless of how one feels about the semantics of defining the "Baby Boom," it will prove interesting to watch how this generation that so profoundly shaped the country in its youth, will affect the country in its old age. Some analysts are making dire predictions, particularly in the context of the Social Security system and in the field of geriatric medicine. No doubt their experience in old age will determine how I spend my retirement years.

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