Guest Post: It’s Not a Fight, It’s a Family

By: Mary Annese Musgrave and Donna Butts

Like Katie Carter, many Kentuckians age 50 and older are deeply concerned about sorely inadequate investments in our children. In fact, raising the voices of older people in support of policies that benefit children and youth is the main reason Generations United started Kentucky Seniors4Kids. As children’s book authors Charles and Ann Morse observe, “a child needs a grandparent, anybody’s grandparent, to grow a little more securely in this world.”

We need to invest more in Kentucky’s children and older adults can make ideal partners in this effort. They often have strong roots in their communities, follow current events, frequently vote, and care about leaving a better future for their grandchildren and future generations.

In Kentucky, Generations United’s Seniors4Kids has recruited over 500 older adult “Captains4Kids” who are raising their voices in support of policies that help children thrive. We’ve engaged the current first lady and all living former first ladies as honorary co-chairs showing their deep commitment to improving the quality of life for children in Kentucky. Many became involved because they witnessed the benefits of these programs firsthand for their grandchildren. They feel compelled to tell policymakers that all young Kentuckians deserve the best chance to start life on the path to school and lifetime success.

But in our opinion, Stephen Marche’s “War on Youth” is ultimately a disservice to ALL generations.  It contains inflammatory intergenerational conflict language, generational stereotypes, and some basic errors regarding social safety net programs. His work pits the generations against each other and alienates the interests of older adults from children’s issues.  

Marche’s piece unjustly blames the baby boomer generation for our country’s problems and insinuates that generation’s callous indifference will forever stint the human potential of today’s youth.  He claims that “older Americans make almost forty-seven times as much as the younger generation.” As the Center for Economic and Policy Research points out in its excellent explanation, this is actually a ratio of wealth, not income.

People over 65 who had once felt secure, watched their home values drop significantly while their 401k’s and other retirement investments took a nosedive during the recession. The result: higher prices for groceries and essentials, but less money to spend. With much of their wealth tied up in their houses, many retirees now have few liquid assets to serve as a buffer and rely on Social Security.

Two-thirds of Americans including youth support paying more for Social Security instead of reducing benefits.  Social Security is more than just a retirement program. It’s a family protection program covering almost every child in America should they lose a parent to death or disability. For nearly 7 million children and youth, it is a critical part of their family income. And most importantly, Social Security is fully funded through 2033. With modest changes to strengthen the program, it can be solvent for generations to come.

Unlike Marche, most Americans recognize that older and younger Americans do indeed belong to a community of interest. It’s called family. According to Pew Research Center, 76% of adults report that family is the most important element of their life. And in these family units we demonstrate how much we care about each other.

Take grandparents for example. In Kentucky, 57,141 children live in grandparent-headed households. Of those, 30,241 are living there without either parent present.  Grandparents also step in to provide child care, as well. According to the Census Bureau, among the 11.3 million children younger than five whose mothers are employed nationwide, 30 percent are cared for on a regular basis by a grandparent. Many also continue to contribute financially to their children and grandchildren helping with among other things education, housing and food.

That doesn’t sound like a country whose generations are at war with each other. A recent poll conducted by Harris Interactive for Generations United found that 76% of people believed publically funded programs targeted to a specific age group, such as K-12 public education or Social Security, are not burdensome responsibilities to certain age groups but investments that benefit all generations.  The majority of Americans care about each other. They strongly believe, as we do, that “It is not a fight, it is a family.”

If we want to secure more wins for children, we need to do a better of job of helping all generations see how investments in children reap short- and long-term rewards for all Kentuckians, not point fingers or drive wedges between generations. Kentucky Seniors4Kids looks forward to continuing our partnership with Kentucky Youth Advocates and other children’s advocates of all ages to accomplish that goal.

Mary Annese Musgrave is the State Coordinator for Generations United’s Kentucky Seniors4Kids. Seniors4Kids raises the voices of older adults in support of policies that help children thrive. In partnership with the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, we are currently working to increase the availability and quality of early care and education.

Donna M. Butts is the executive director of Generations United, the national organization focused on improving the lives of children, youth, and older people through intergenerational programs, policies, and strategies. Since 1986, Generations United has served as a resource for policymakers and the public on the economic, social, and personal imperatives of intergenerational cooperation.

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