As a senior, I am grateful for the special shopping hours that the local supermarkets have made available to us during the COVID-19 pandemic. Immune system functioning declines with age through no fault of the seniors. But as I entered Pavilions Saturday morning with other seniors, I felt guilty getting first dibs on limited selections of fresh produce, pasta, frozen vegetables and canned tomatoes. What young families would miss out on potatoes because I got them first? My sense of guilt increased even more as I thought about what my generation is bequeathing to young families: out of sight housing costs, huge student debt, accelerating climate change and an increasingly frayed government safety net.
Right across the street from me are young families raising kids who are paying four times the property taxes that I am for comparably-priced properties, thanks to Proposition 13. I graduated debt-free from a private college despite coming from a middle class family, which is not possible today at most colleges. The system is rigged to benefit my generation, trapping young people in a cycle of increasingly desperate work for fewer benefits (think: gig economy). For the first time since WWII, we have seen two consecutive years of declining U.S. life expectancy because of “deaths of despair,” such as drug overdoses and gun-related suicides—almost all involving young people.
The Biden administration (I now see his election as likely) will have to make some politically unpopular but necessary adjustments to restore some balance to what we expect of our younger compatriots. A good start would be having the government pay off student loans if a person’s employment history impedes their ability to pay the full principal and accumulated interest. This is not only equitable but good economic policy as young people are delaying marriage, child-bearing and house-buying because of prolonged unpaid student debt. Taxing income from wealth at the same rate as income from labor would be an appropriate way to pay for this policy because it is mostly seniors who have the wealth and mostly young people who provide the labor.