With the economy slowly recovering from a very rough recession and millions of Americans still out of work, if your perception is based on what you read in the mainstream media, it’s tough to think things are actually going well for this generation. While joblessness is a temporary condition for most, the actual life you’ve lead and standard of living you enjoy is a culmination of your collective years on this earth and what you see into the near future, not just this immediate moment where you may judge that your job stinks or you’re just starting out. When contemplating how you’re faring in the bigger picture across your entire adult life and into the future, would you consider yourself to be better off or worse off than your parents?
I’m Better Off – And I Never Take it for Granted
I have no complaints about my childhood. It was great. I loved my parents, they loved me, I had a lot of great experiences and we had enough to live a “regular” American life. Aside from my parents being very involved in my academics, sports and musical interests, we did get a nice day trip to the shore here and there and a weekly vacation to a lake. As far as I could tell, life was great and it was “the way it was supposed to be”.
As I grew up and learned more about what people make, what other people have, and how things were when I was young, it’s evident that for our age, we’re much better off financially than my parents were. The two bedroom, 1 bath house I grew up in seemed normal to me at the time, but I don’t think it’s a place, that based on today’s norms, where we’d feel “successful” raising our kids now. I never thought much about the junky vehicles we had, like the old International with rust so bad you could see the road through the floorboard – or hearing my father yelling as he worked on cars and dropped a wrench or hit is head (who actually works on their own cars anymore? anyone?) I learned about how my parents didn’t even have the money for my dad to get his hair cut on a routine schedule and I wore hand-me-downs well into Middle School which a classmate rudely pointed out in front of my friends to my horror (I was wearing her older brother’s old clothes). It’s weird what sticks with you as an adult, and in retrospect, my parents probably saved precious hundreds of dollars in clothes each year by doing so, but man, did that piss me off when my classmate did that. Sure, we swap baby clothes with friends and family now for the little ones, but I don’t imagine that as the kids are older we’ll need to resort to hand-me-downs from the “well-to-do” out of actual financial necessity. For my parents at the time, it was something that was necessary.
So, overall, I wouldn’t classify us as having been poor – probably solidly middle class, and I do cherish my childhood. But from a standard of living standpoint in all aspects – inflation adjusted income, home, cars, vacations, material things, whatever, our family is faring better. How could I complain about money? We just put in a pool after all! I happened to have lucked out I suppose and ended up with a job with low unemployment – which can change in a heartbeat – but it’s been good to me thus far.
Are Things Really That Bad in the US?
If you focus on the titles in the mainstream media, you’d probably think the average 30-40 year old American today is much worse-off than their parents were. If you exclude any temporary setbacks like one-time job-loss or some paper losses in real estate, I tend to think most Americans in this cohort are actually better off. See, the 70s were a terrible mix of stagflation and little innovation driving new growth industries. For the most part, home sizes were smaller, cars were cheaper, there was less materialism and yet, so many Americans in the middle class struggled like my parents did just to put food on the table. These days, while things might seem more expensive, aren’t we just buying more? Home sizes are gargantuan and people tend to buy new cars or lease over buying used. Everyone’s got a cell phone, cable, internet, a new car/lease and other recurring bills that, while I wouldn’t want to live without, these are new expenses that we voluntarily take on that didn’t even exist back then. It is possible to live without that iPhone plan and use free TV instead of $150 cable bills. We eat more, we eat worse and find ourselves spending more on medical bills and medication to control our conditions. Our generation took on a lot more debt than any prior generation, and hence, we spend more of our disposable income servicing that debt (See the only credit cards that make sense). These are just a few of the things that differentiate the generations, but really, if we wiped out some of these voluntary budget leaks, shouldn’t we overwhelmingly be better off?
Somehow, in spite of it all, my parents were able to put me through college, which allowed me to pay them back a portion of it at no interest rather than take on a student loan. It was never about money growing up; we always had “enough” and I never really thought about why my house was smaller than another kid’s or why we didn’t have a pool or an Atari. I just wasn’t raised to think like that. I think the current generation of kids is much more perceptive and status-driven. My young kids already talk about house size, who has what and what things cost – and my wife and I don’t even talk like that around them! I don’t know where they get it; I guess some TV and who they hang out with. But I wonder what life will be like in America for our kids. I plan on giving our kids the best start possible (within reason) and hope they make it on their own – and end up with even a more prosperous, fulfilling life than the ones we lead now. Aim high!
What Are Your Thoughts?
Are You Better Off Than Your Parents?
Do You Think Your Children Will be Better Off Than You?