Thanks a Lot for the Disastrous Economic Legacy, Baby Boomers

baby boomers
baby boomers

Baby boomers were handed the American dream.

They entered the workforce at the beginning of an economic boom. Income tax rates dropped as their careers (and incomes) progressed. All while the Dow Jones industrial average soared more than 1,100%.

The Economist calls it a "demographic dividend" possible through a perfect storm of better education, a massive workforce (as a majority of women sought employment for the first time in history), and boomer-friendly legislation.

Yet according to one columnist for The Atlantic, they are also "statistically and generationally speaking, ... parasite[s]."

Robbing Their Own Cradles

With all due respect to boomers (which include both my parents), I agree.

As a group, boomers (partly through the politicians they elected) didn't just take full advantage of the successful economic times they lived in. They went well beyond their ample means, leaving their children and grandchildren with over $16 trillion in federal debt. Compared to just $228 billion when the first boomer was born, that's an increase of 7,018%.

And despite their demographic dividend, this debt may be their unfortunate economic legacy, especially considering how horrible they've been at saving. (The average savings of someone nearing retirement -- i.e., baby boomers -- is roughly just $100,000.)

No matter how you look at it (and even applying experts' top tips to maximize their Social Security payout), this won't be enough for most boomers to retire comfortably.

In other words, they'll be living a "faith-based retirement," according to Joe Nocera of The New York Times. Or they'll demand even larger retirement handouts from the government -- further crippling their progeny.

And the Worst Part Is ...

Generations X and Y don't have any way to get out from under this crippling debt.

The workforce can't grow like it did for boomers because the birth rate has fallen since 1957. Taxes can't feasibly continue dropping because of the high level of federal debt.

Even the stock market -- despite its recent bullish run -- will likely experience a sustained bear market as boomers cash in on what money they do have invested to fund their retirements.

Even the Government Can't Help

This is true because boomers are both more active voters and make up the bulk of the members of both chambers of Congress. With political power firmly in hand, they're not likely to do anything against their best interests.

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Yet even if Generations X and Y were politically involved, what could they feasibly change?

The only real solution would be either a period of complete austerity (meaning an immediate 35% hike in taxes and a 35% drop in entitlement spending, according to the IMF) or a period of sustained inflation (which may be an effective tactic to lower the real value of the amount of the federal debt, according to The Economist).

But neither of these is easy to vote in favor of (or to elect politicians to implement), especially when both would inevitably impact these generations for the worse.

So what do you think: Have baby boomers doomed America forever? Or will Generations X and Y map out a comfortable path between austerity and innovation to reverse the trend and to hand their children a debt-free America?

Sound off in the comments section below.

This article was written by Motley Fool analyst Adam J. Wiederman. To read Adam's report on how to boost your Social Security payouts by as much as 76%, click here.

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