I arrived on my family’s doorstep three years after the end of World War II. My parents and my three older—much older!—siblings were undoubtedly surprised. I didn’t really understand why; I was just one tiny drop in that flood of natural immigration now known as the “baby boom.” The war was over and won: let the good times roll!
If you want to get technical about it, a baby boom is simply a period marked by a significant increase in the birth rate of a particular geographic area. In my case, that increase was caused by several factors: all those veterans returning from the war, victorious and grateful to be alive; the passage of the G.I. Bill which encouraged home ownership and higher levels of education; a strong post-war economy; and perhaps most important of all, a renewed sense of optimism in the American Dream. The soundtrack of that dream had decreased in volume to a mere whisper during the Great Depression but in the wake of the war, it got turned back up to a full-throated roar…or maybe that was the sound of all those wailing babies.
The Baby Boom in the United States lasted for about 17 years. During that time, 65 million babies arrived on other doorsteps around the country—that’s one about every seven seconds. If the Great Depression and the World War had put a temporary halt to making babies, peace and prosperity more than made up for lost time. The world looked like it was going to be a safer place and the suburbs beckoned with lots of room for bigger families. Rosie the Riveter didn’t need to go to work anymore and we all thought father knew best. It was a time of great blessing made possible by lots of corny advertising on television and a new-fangled invention known as the credit card. Just look at all those happy little Mouseketeers on their way to becoming happy consumers!
Of course a shadow lay across the land but we refused to see it. I guess we didn’t want to think about the day when all those boomed babies would have babies of their own before they became old enough to retire and collect social security checks. I mean, why buy an umbrella when the sun is shining? A ‘Dependency Ratio?’ What’s that?
I’ll tell you what it is: it’s a stretch mark on the belly of the segment of the productive part of the population that is still going to work every day. Simply put, there are now a lot more of us boomers who are no longer working than there are Millennials or Gen Xers who are, and that ratio is only going to increase in the next couple of decades. According to the Census Bureau, the dependency ratio will reach a record-breaking high in 2020 and will continue to rise in the years beyond. Cue all those Malthusian economists who warn of dire times ahead when overcrowding, food shortages, and an overtaxed healthcare system lead us all down the dismal road that leads to Dystopia.
Sorry; I didn’t mean to go all doom and gloom on you. There are solutions available but they will require a measure of sacrifice and a larger portion of bipartisanship than what we’ve seen on the dinner table for quite some time. I’ve yet to be convinced that capitalism is endemically equipped to resolve the riddle because wealth just doesn’t seem to trickle down like it’s supposed to. And as for progressive socialism, that ideology just doesn’t seem all that compatible with our optimistic and hard-working old friend, the American Dream. You know which dream I mean, the one all of us Boomers lapped up like mothers’ milk.
So what is the solution? I’m listening…
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” was released in June 2018. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com