(updated on 09/30/2018)
In November of 1992, I was working my first job, part-time as a cashier/hostess at Bob’s Big Boy Restaurant. I was 18-years-old and passionately engaged to vote for the first time. I felt the fears of my generation about Social Security going bankrupt at the time my generation was ready to collect on all that hard-earned money we paid into the system. My typical cynical self thought I might be one of the lucky ones to live in a cardboard box at the time I was eligible to receive my first check.
In my youth, my future was too foggy and terrifying. My mind imploded with questions: ‘what if the economy collapses, what if I have a nervous breakdown, what if all the world’s nuclear reactors meltdown all at once, what if Donald Trump…’
And then I just glazed over, knee-jerked back to my present circumstances and stopped looking into the abyss, as it stared back into my soul, threatening to form dark matter there, and sink my physical being into a black hole somewhere in the suburbs of San Bernardino county.
As a first-time voter, Bill Clinton seemed a bit shady and to be honest, unrealistically happy. I didn’t trust his squinty eyes and toothy grin and I sure as hell wasn’t going with a Republican. I placed my first official vote for Ross Perot, a crazy little Texas billionaire with all his charts and ostensibly smart analytics on the economy, which went along with my young mind hungry for real world statistics.
Perot was the independent wild card, a better bet (I thought at the time), considering the unemployment of all the college graduate X-ers before me. I worried about my future job prospects. My Silent Generation parents were moving to Oregon to retire and I desperately needed to get away from them, a dream I’d had since I was 12. Between Mom’s intense religious beliefs and Dad’s obsession with needing my mother at his side at all times, I didn’t care how I got out – I just needed out.
The future of Social Security Insurance was a major deal and everyone was talking about it. We were paying into a system that would be bankrupt by 2030. In 1991, the cost of Social Security (AKA Entitlement) checks going out was greater than payments coming into the system, according to experts at the time. I had all of this on my mind before I had filled out my first tax form.
Look ahead to the year 2000, when today’s unusually affluent Americans in their fifties begin to retire. This is a cohort of lifelong upward mobility whose average household wealth in retirement (according to the economists Frank Levy and Richard Michel) is likely to exceed that of all living Americans born either before or after them. Then consider the position of today’s young adults [Gen-X] — handicapped by unstable family backgrounds, an inferior education, and stagnating entry-level wages. By the year 2000, while raising families amid growing talk of yet another hike in the payroll tax, they will cast searching eyes at the abundance of their elders.
– N. Howe, P. Longmen • Atlantic Monthly (April 1992)
Now that I think about it, if Generation X survives the Social Security bottle-neck of the Boomer retirement years and if the job market hasn’t transferred to robots, the Millennials may have an easier ride since their workplace numbers will support Gen Xers through retirement, not only because we are small in number, but many of us will have committed ‘Hara-Kiri’ by then (and no, I am not laughing about that).
Millennials have already bypassed Gen Xers as the largest generation in the U.S. labor force as of May 2015 and Boomers are still holding onto their jobs trying to recover lost retirement savings from the 2008 recession.
So…all the money I pay into Social Security throughout my entire life will not be there by the time I hit 65, somewhere in 2039 (an unfathomable year). Hell, I might even have to pay the system three times over in taxes for ten years prior just to keep the monthly checks flowing to the massive number of Baby Boomers in the inevitable future. Okay… And perhaps, like the growing trend, many of those collecting SSI while I am working, will live to 100! Can I cry now?