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From Woodstock to Communal Living
The Baby Boom Collapses
Commentary on the News
Monday, August 02, 2010
Ed DeShields

The credit crunch did not create the present pressure on public borrowing and spending.   It merely called attention to the age-related fiscal crisis ahead.  Thanks to the Great Recession, we simply got to the party early.

The current economic crisis would have become inevitable once a majority of the baby boomers retired around 2020.  Of the 13 recessions that the American public has seen since the Great Depression of 1929-33, none has presented a more punishing combination of length, breadth and depth than this one.  This crisis was long ago locked into being by a combination of poor politics and the baby boom which began in the late forties.   Do the Baby Boomers represent the last generation of prosperity?  It’s looking more likely as the years pass by. 

What really jumps out to me is that the US financial position is deteriorating rapidly. 

The net worth of median households in the 45 to 54 age bracket has dropped by more than 45 percent since 2004, to just over $80,000. Households headed by those aged 55 to 64, meanwhile, have lost 38 percent of net wealth.

The result is that many baby boomers will only have entitlements to rely on in their retirement.  Make that entitlements, roommates, and each other.    One of the most astonishing real-life effects of the crisis has been the wide-scale need for “room-mate housing requests” from people over age 45.   Craigslist is crammed with want ads from baby boomers looking for room mates. 

When you add up the bill for the credit crunch, bank bailouts and recession it only accounts for 9% of the increase in our long-term public debt.  The remaining 91% of the long-term debt is due to the growth of public spending on pensions, health and long-term care.   So you can quickly see we’ve got ourselves cornered in a difficult place. 

Our future will be defined by lowered standards of living.  Why?  Because it’s a historical fact that our country shows no indications of possessing the political courage required to take a different route.  In the simplest terms, this means you and I will face a future of uncomfortably high inflation, and possibly hyperinflation due to an exploding financial debt from a system out-of-control. 

I am currently traveling around the country by motor home collecting information on the local effects of the Great Recession on real people.  In the Western cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Phonenix virtually every baby boomer has lost the majority of their wealth that was previously stored in their homes in the form of equity.  Nationally, 25% of all homeowners owe more on their homes than they are worth.

California is cutting state payrolls and furloughing workers up to three days per month due to the state crisis.  Construction is at a virtual standstill throwing tens of thousands of workers out of work.  An environmental act to protect a minnow has led to fallow fields in the rich valleys of Central California where the once rich land is returning to desert due to the water being shut off.   I observed one hundred miles of former almond farms going to waste now looking more like the Mojave desert to the east.  Foreign investors are snapping up foreclosures at a record pace.  Whole neighborhoods are in cultural change. 

Arizona’s debt-to-state GDP is over 27% and is under enormous pressure to stop its borders from being overrun by illegal immigrants as a border war rages into Phoenix.   Mexican flags are flying everywhere in open defiance to our immigration policy.  As our RV motored across the Arizona Plauteau, the immigration authorities searched the countryside along the highways in helicopers searching for illegal immigrants.   Seeing squadrons of helicopters in the high desert makes the size and scope of the problem real.   Looking out over the desert I wondered if the thousand trails meandering into desert were made by immigrants, or by wildlife.       

Never-the-less this country is a beautiful site to see and in contrast to the pain of its people so majestic. 

After a brief weekend at home in Dallas, my tour bus is on the road again at 5:30 a.m. tomorrow.  I’ll be visiting Detroit on Tuesday, Cincinnati on Friday, and then Chicago and Columbus.  I’ll wind up in Atlanta at the end of the month and will spend September at home.  I will be interviewing one company in Columbus, Ohio who has snapped up over 525 homes from foreclosure easily making them the largest owner of single family homes in both Columbus and Akron - - two devistated markets where unemployment is soaring.  

Folks, our official national debt stands at $13 trillion or 91% of (nominal) GDP, but when we add in our "off balance sheet" items, the national debt stands at $55 trillion or over 400% of GDP.

Now that's horrifying.  If you add up all our revenues and tax receipts it’s only a fraction of this number.  This means the interest bill alone will soon exceed our total budget. 

And that's just at the federal level.  We could easily make this story a bit more ominous by including state, municipal, and corporate shortfalls which I’m getting an eye full of in my travels.  

Here's what the federal shortfall means in the simplest terms:  There is no way to grow out of this problem.  All in all, our baby boom generation has come from the Woodstock communal society to the new reality that many baby boomers will require a new form of communal living to deal with their retirement years.

About Ed DeShields

Last week: Oh, The Mass of Humanity



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