The other day I read in a newspaper that some 10,000 American Baby Boomers are retiring each day and signing up for Social Security benefits.
In the same edition of the paper, it was pointed out that, nationwide, folks who’ve held the lowest paying jobs in nursing homes aren’t wanting them anymore. That situation could become critical. And on the other end of the pay scale, we’re losing physicians in many communities. New Orleans no longer has a specialist in geriatrics that my husband or I could find. Not a good situation as our country ages.
Years ago I remarked to a woman I’d known in high school that there weren’t many people of within five or so years of my age working at the newspaper. “There aren’t many of us anywhere,” she said. “Remember — we’re a small generation.”
That “generation,” Americans born from, say, 1930 to 1945, is a relatively teeny one because during the Great Depression and World War II, folks weren’t having many babies.
I knew that, but it had slipped my mind; I’d even read a column about it once in The Atlanta Journal Constitution. The writer pointed out that while Tom Brokaw had labeled the adults who lived through the war years “The Greatest Generation,” nobody had put a name to us. So the columnist called us “Gap Guppies,” being just senior to the Baby Boomers and, indeed, parents of some of the youngest of them.
It was good, growing up as a guppy in the ‘40s and ‘50s without as much competition. Classes were smaller in high school, with not much trouble getting into college unless the Ivy League and other renowned schools was your focus. When the time came for us to enter the work force, it wasn’t so crowded. (I got every newspaper job I ever applied for; in the ‘90s, one of my ads seeking a reporter drew 200 responses.)
Life was quieter and more comfortable. You could park your car on the street almost any place you wanted to, even in New Orleans, where my husband and I regularly got curb service at Café du Monde.
But we Gap Guppies never did make our mark on history. In the U.S., we went straight from putting a “Greatest Generation” guy in the White House — George W. H. Bush — to electing a Baby Boomer to follow him: Bill Clinton. Then we named another Boomer — and another Bush — to the presidency. And followed him with Obama the Boomer.
John McCain was our last shot, and that one didn’t hit the target.
But despite our failure to take the most prominent of places in history, I always figured that we guppies had enjoyed child and young adulthood in relative calm and safety, and the Boomers would take care of us in our old age, inasmuch as they’d be bent on taking care of themselves. I envisioned a utopia of sorts– vibrant inner cities with gardening by landscapers and goodies for sale on every corner, streetcars and buses enabling those of us using canes and walkers to travel conveniently to movies, plays and concerts; affordable loft apartments for intellectual gatherings, etc. (Thus far, the only places to offer entertainment and long-distance transportation for seniors, are the casinos on the Gulf Coast, which cater to geriatric gamblers.)
I thought the Boomers, because of their sheer numbers, would have it their way. They’d be powerful enough to accomplish wonders. And those elders still around would tag along.
If the aging of America doesn’t present problems we need to take a hard look at now, I don’t know what does. And the Boomers– they’ve been in charge for the last 20 years– need to hustle before they get too old, too.
Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at email@example.com.