American Elephants


Seventy-Six Million Americans: The Baby Boom Generation. by The Elephant's Child
July 29, 2010, 9:13 pm
Filed under: Capitalism, Economy, History, Politics | Tags: , ,

Today’s senior citizens often speak about “the War.” Younger generations may wonder “Which one?” but for the older generation, there is only one that is “the War”.  It changed everything, and after VE Day and VJ Day, when they all came home, no one had any idea how much change was yet to come.

After “the War,” returning veterans flocked to America’s colleges and universities to take advantage of the GI Bill, one of America’s better ideas.  It made it possible for the young men who had given so much, and lost so many friends in the war, to go to college on the taxpayer’s dime. And they signed up and they married the girl they had left behind, and off they went.

Colleges and Universities were unprepared.  Barracks and Quonset huts became dormitories and housing for married students.  Cartoons in the New Yorker showed graduating classes of masses of young men, and on the sidelines, the chairs were filled with young women — each with a baby in her lap or in an adjacent buggy. The United States had a population of 140 million, soon to expand in a generation that changed America, and is still changing it.

In February of 1946 , exactly 9 months after VJ Day, there were 206,387 babies born in the United States.  In May, there were 233,452 babies, in June the number had swelled to 242,302.  In October births had spurted to 339,499.  An all-time high of 3.4 million babies had been born in the United States — one every nine seconds.  In 1947, 3.8 million babies were born.

Demographers were unimpressed.  The rise in births was sudden…but a classic case of satisfying pent-up demand. …In 1946, the Census bureau director said that the U.S. population would  not reach 163 million until the year 2000.¹

In eleven straight years from 1954 through 1964 there were more than 4 million babies born each year.  By 1964, four out of every ten people in the United States were under 20 and there were more children under 14 than there had been people in the entire nation in 1881.

They grew up on steak and milk and Wonder Bread that made strong bones and good teeth.  Advertisers quickly discovered that American mothers had created the biggest market in history, and from that moment on the boomers were surrounded with products created just for them.  There were Slinkys and Silly Putty, skateboards and hula hoops.  They grew up with bomb shelters and the knowledge that their world could someday end in a flash of light and heat.  They revolutionized everything they touched.

Car companies churned out station wagons, developers built Levittown,  housing tracts sprang up all over the country, with fenced back yards and patios for the barbecue and cul-de-sacs where the kids could ride their bikes in safety.  Malvinia Reynolds wrote a song about “little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tacky” when she saw the sprawl of suburban houses in Daly City, California that “all look just the same.”

The country has been dominated by the baby boom ever since 1946.  There were simply so many boomers that what they did and thought and bought influenced everything.    There was rock music and there were protests, assassinations, Vietnam, flower children.  Businesses who catered to the tastes of the boomers grew and succeeded.  Journalists who wrote stories about the boomers always had an audience.  But they were also the over-crowded generation, standing in line for school, for lunch, for concerts.

And now the first boomers are turning 65 next year, eligible for Social Security and Medicare, and the numbers of seniors will increase exponentially until 2026.  This is the problem unaddressed by the stimulus bill,  ignored by Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, by Barack Obama, by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and untouched by any other bill drummed up in the back rooms of Congress, or in the White House.

Citizens alarmed by the profligate spending by Democrats are indicating in the polls that the upcoming election will be a difficult one for Democrats.  Democrats have fiercely resisted any effort to reform entitlements.  Claiming that Republicans will take away old folks Social Security and Medicare may gain them some votes from credulous senior citizens, but we have run out of time.  Reform is possible that will not harm those who depend on these programs. The problem will not go away, it must be faced.  Pretending otherwise is a recipe for real disaster.

¹Landon Y. Jones: Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation.





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