Will Generation X step up?

Though one of its own sits yet again in the White House, the baby-boom generation, 78 million strong, is finally preparing to depart the scene. Theirs is a 40-year legacy of war, debt, and cultural conflagration. The boomers won’t leave a vacuum when they go, however. The young and hungry millennials—roughly speaking, those between 18 and 35—are licking their lips. Numbering 80 million, these tech-savvy kids are the largest generational cohort in American history, and they’re preparing to seize the commanding heights of the economy and culture. Given their size and cultural clout, the millennials could conceivably jump the queue, crowding out the more traditional priorities and preferences of the intervening generation—Generation X, those roughly between the ages of 37 and 52—and setting the terms of the national debate on everything from the shape of the economy to the future of free speech.

This skipping of a generation, if it happens, will be a special sort of injustice. The youngest Xers are entering the prime of their lives; the oldest among them have passed 50. With no time left to start over, they’re the ones for whom public policy, cultural change, and a growing economy really matter. Their salaries have stagnated over the last nine years, along with GDP growth. The underwater mortgages are largely theirs. The ever-heavier costs of college education fall on their shoulders. Social Security, if it isn’t somehow fixed, is going to disintegrate just as they are getting ready to retire.

As a cohort, GenXers have often been described as reticent, certainly compared with the generations before and after them. It might be time to shed this habitual reluctance, however: if they don’t assert themselves soon, they risk losing their ability to influence the direction of the country. Sadly, it will happen just as they’re entering their most productive years.

Many balk at using the concept of generations as a lens through which to analyze political, cultural, social, and economic trends, as if tens of millions of people could possibly be of one mind—or even similar minds—about important matters. University of California at Berkeley political scientist Laura Stoker calls the notion that you can divide the populace into discrete generations “fruitful if vexing.”

Read the rest at: Generation X

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