Generation X-it

It has become harder to raise a young family today in Canada, while it has become easier to retire.  The generation raising young kids has less time at home because they work harder to compensate for stalled incomes that must now pay for housing prices that skyrocketed since 1976.  By contrast, poverty is down dramatically for seniors, earnings are higher for those about to retire, and housing prices that nearly doubled in value are a major source of wealth for those who owned a home back in the 1970s and 80s. There is no doubt that the Baby Boom generation worked hard as parents, employees and business owners – and they deserve credit for this hard work.  But Boomers also lucked out because their adult years coincided with wage returns for education, and wealth accumulation through home ownership, patterns that don’t continue nearly as much today for the generation raising young kids.


As a result, there now is a significant intergenerational tension in Canada.  But this doesn’t mean Boomers alone are responsible.  Pete McMartin writes in good humour about “The attack of the retired baby boomers… Run for your lives.”  Yet the reality is that much responsibility for the bad intergenerational deal rests with the very generation raising young kids.


This is not to suggest the generation raising young kids is generally lazy. Statistics Canada data show that Canadians age 25-44 work more hours and provide more unpaid care than Canadians over 44.


Nor is it to suggest that the generation raising young kids is more consumerist than previous generations. The additional time they devote to employment is as much about being stuck on a hamster wheel as it is anything else. Don’t forget that dual-earner Canadians age 25-44 make on average a household income that the Boomer generation often earned with one salary. Worse than that, far higher housing prices mean that when the generation raising young kids get in the real estate market, they aren’t buying granite countertops; they are buying fixer-uppers, often without yards.


The main problem with the generation raising young kids, as I see it, is that too many bought into the name Generation X, and ‘X-ited’ formal politics. It’s almost a badge of honour now to proclaim our political laziness, maintaining that “Politics aren’t about me” or “It doesn’t matter if I vote.”


And so we don’t. We’re a third less likely to vote compared with those older than 44. Indeed, we seem much more interested in who gets voted off some TV island than who gets voted to Victoria or Ottawa.


We may not worry about our X-it from politics. But will our children? Might they not someday question why we didn’t grow up politically to challenge the decline in the standard of living; to challenge the fact that an especially affluent generation of Canadians approaches retirement with some more intent on globe-trotting than on remedying the fiscal debt, the environmental debt, or the family policy debt they leave for those who follow?


The reality is that Boomer politicians play politics well for their generation, reducing seniors’ poverty, strengthening pensions and investing even more in medical care to treat illness at the end of life.


By contrast, the generation raising young kids doesn’t play politics well, and we get a bad deal as a result.


Our poor effort is partly a problem of X-haustion. Reality TV was bound to gain popularity when families are squeezed for time and income left after housing and services. When tired, who doesn’t want to veg on the couch watching some mindless program?


But we can’t let our X-haustion get in the way of the solution. It’s time to grow up politically. It’s time to start demanding a New Deal for families with young kids.


This means taking politics more seriously. We can’t keep treating politicians as punch lines more than persons who deserve respect. Presently, just 15 per cent of Canadians trust our elected officials. More of us trust new car salesmen! Reaching out to MPs and MLAs in all parties is imperative if we are to make progress on the New Deal. Tell them the facts about Canada’s untold story — the decline in the standard of living for the generation raising kids, which makes it far more difficult to raise a family.   Tell them job creation definitely matters when putting families first – but data also show that jobs aren’t what they used to be in terms of paying wages that keep up with the cost of living.  So putting families first now must also mean policy innovation to help moms and dads alike afford enough time at home, and enough time on the job to earn a living to pay for their family.


Championing a New Deal will be work.  But it also can be fun.  Many repeat Emma Goldman’s famous line:  “If I can’t dance, I don’t want any part of your revolution.”  So… it’s time to follow her lead and organize the serious business of politics around fun activities.  Let’s rekindle the politics that were pervasive in the Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll of the 60s, and adapt it for our time – if we want Canada to work for all generations.


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