One of the tactics conservatives use in their crusade to dismantle Social Security is to play generations against each other. Recently, a chairman of President Obama's deficit commissions called soon-to-retire baby boomers "the greediest generation." While that may be a particularly blunt example of divide and conquer, this sort of thing has been going on a long time. My generation, the X'rs, have been a target of a very subtly waged propaganda campaign against Social Security. I admit to being one of those who fell for it. I had been one of those who thought "Social Security is bankrupt and it will never be there for me." I had been one of those who thought that all I was going to do was give and never receive. Only once I learned the facts did I become immune to the lies. However, the war on Social Security continues and the effort to divide generations over it will continue as well.
There is no divide over Social Security. All people, across age, geography, sex, race, you name it, believe in the mission, purpose, and basic structure of Social Security. AARP conducted an extensive poll on the matter and the results were crystal clear:
In a national phone survey of 1,200 adults by the GfK Roper consulting firm (margin of error: plus or minus 3 percent), 90 percent of those ages 18 to 29 deemed Social Security important. In fact, almost half of them agreed with the statement that it is "one of the very most important government programs," an opinion held by nearly 80 percent of those over 65.
And nearly three-quarters of these youngest respondents strongly agreed that while they may not need the program when they retire, a time that probably seems infinitely far away, "I definitely want to know that it’s there, just in case I do." Sixty-two percent said they will rely on Social Security payments in some way. By a wide margin, they opposed cutting benefits to reduce the federal deficit.
Beyond that, the poll went on to show that a majority of Americans across demographic groups are willing to contribute more in Social Security taxes to take care of today's seniors. Even more astounding, the people are willing to pay more in taxes today so that Social Security will be there for themselves! The idea that the youth are against the elderly on the matter is largely a media-manufactured myth fed by wealthy conservatives looking to turn one group against another. They don't like the concept of Social Security because of their ideology. They don't like the non-profit nature of Social Security because of their selfishness. They don't like Social Security taxes because of their greed. They know their views are only held by a small, wealthy elite. So they seek to convince us all of something most of know is false. That is why they are always repeating the lie that "Social Security is going broke." What young person could possibly want to pay into a system that is going broke? This is why AARP and Gallup polls show 6 in 10 workers believe Social Security will not be there for them. Despite all the extensive evidence to the contrary.
My generation, one of the more cynical and ironic in my view, has little confidence in institutions generally. Having come up in an era of changes in the family structure, radical changes in the economic arrangements, and the advent of the information age, we are a socially detached and pessimistic generation. So it is clear for me, being one of those who came of age under Reaganism, how easy it is to settle into the easy fiction that the geezers are mooching and leaving us with the bill. The GenX complaint reads something like this:
Mom and dad made free love, had me, got a divorce, ran up a bunch of debt, bought a McMansion and a bunch of Tony Robbins videos and left me with the bill, and now I have to pay for their retirement?!!! No thanks. I'll be over here reading W. Edwards Deming.
Guys, let's grow up. Even Molly Ringwald is a mother of three. Grow up. I think most of us have, but anybody willing to fall into generational antagonism over silly projections needs a wake-up call. This is a moral issue.
The bottom line is that Social Security is about making sure we are our brother's keeper. Social Security is about who we are as a people. Are we going to be a people that turns the vulnerable into the street? The vast majority of non-retired people reject this idea and stand strongly behind the purpose, structure, and application of Social Security. Beware of those who use attempt to use generational warfare to undermine it. Not only are they liars and charlatans, but they couldn't care less about the young and their future. They have but one goal in using this tactic: to destroy the last remaining hope of the middle class.