Issues

The Generation Gap

Race2012: Issues - The Generation Gap

“You’re going to have this huge gap between a preponderantly non-white youth population that believes it needs investment in education and healthcare, in particular, to ascend into the middle class, and an older, preponderantly white retiring Baby Boom silent generation that is growing increasingly resistant to paying for those services for people who they don’t really see as…part of their legacy.” –  Ronald Brownstein, Editorial Director, National Journal

The struggle over the integration of Latinos is undergirded by another demographic reality, the generation gap.  The median age of Latinos in the United States is 27 years old, while that of non-Hispanic whites is 47 years old.

This implies that the current mathematics over how ethnicity is influencing elections will have a multiplicative effect on the future of the political system.  In 2012 for example, for the first time in history, non-white births in the United States outnumbered those of whites. Contrast this with the other end of the age spectrum, with over eighty percent of Americans over the age of 65, non-Hispanic white.

This generation gap has an important impact on how we view policies, and more importantly, how our democratic government prioritizes “who gets what, when and how.”  In a struggle that Brownstein calls “Brown versus the Gray,” the argument to invest in the younger generation is no longer a foregone conclusion. The generation gap is not only a demographic one, but is centered around the fight for shrinking resources between an older and whiter group insistent on holding onto programs like Social Security and Medicare, even if that means sacrificing some of the resources devoted to much needed education and the rebuilding of a decaying infrastructure.

The Generation GapAlthough the struggle over the allocation of resources is fundamentally a democratic one, the mechanisms of power are overwhelmingly in the hands of the Gray. Ironically, Brownstein argues, the federal programs designed for the Gray are dependent on the taxes generated by a young, non-white, vibrant workforce. In order to maintain the current level of benefits, the Gray must take an interest in investing in the Brown.

FOR DISCUSSION

  • How can the “Brown versus Gray” argument be articulated in such a way as to convince the aging Baby Boomers to invest in a demographic that is increasingly young and non-white?
  • Is it possible to maintain the entitlements of the past without investing in the economic engine of the future?