While I was a huge fan of the classic 1938 version of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn. I’m not so much a far of the version played by Uncle Sam, which has used the past quarter-century to rob from the young to give to the old.
Older adults have made dramatic gains relative to younger adults in their economic well being during the past quarter century, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from two key U.S. Census sources.
Trends in household wealth reveal the pattern most vividly. In 2009, the median net worth (all assets minus all debts) of households headed by an adult ages 65 or older was 42% more than that of their same-aged counterparts in 1984. By contrast, the net worth of a typical household headed by an adult under the age of 35 in 2009 was 68% less than that of their same-aged counterparts in 1984.
As a result of these divergent trends, in 2009 the typical household headed by the older adult had $170,494 in net worth, compared with just $3,662 for the typical household headed by the younger adult. People generally accumulate wealth as they age, so it is not unusual to find large age-based gaps on this measure. However, the current gap is unprecedented. In 1984, the age-based wealth gap had been 10:1. By 2009, it had ballooned to 47:1.
I don’t begrudge my parents and grandparents generations all that they are entitled in retirement, but the simple fact is that they seem to think they are entitled to far more than they should be.
We should provide for the public welfare so that older Americans can have basic housing, food, and medical care, but beyond that it should be the responsibility of the individual to provide for his retirement nest egg by saving and investing some of what he earns throughout his years in the work force.
Once upon a time – not so very long ago – Americans were responsible for their own retirements, or didn’t retire. Now we seem to feel we are entitled to stop working with 10 of 15 more years of life ahead of us, and expect that out children and grandchildren will foot the bill.
Even this would not be so upsetting if the entitlements were restricted to those that really needed them. Instead, we live in a world where even comfortably-retired Americans like those in the Pew analysis are actually getting wealthier, even when they need less.