Today's young couples are facing impossible financial expectations and demands. I was reminded of that when a friend told me that her son's college education was costing $54,000 — a year.
That's more than I spent some 20 years ago for my two children's entire college educations. I can only shudder when I think what they'll be paying when their children — six of them, a toddler up to a sixth-grader — get to college.
I paid for some of my children's college educations with home equity loans, but with the housing market's evaporation, that's a less significant option now.
Student loans? Obviously so; student loan indebtedness in America now exceeds credit card indebtedness. This, when a college degree will guarantee you — a job as a sales associate in a big-box retail store?
My friend said she and her husband thought they were doing the right thing by putting together a college fund for their children, but then saw it eaten up in the first year.
The cost of a college education has risen so sharply — more than health care costs, some say — that pricey institutions of higher learning should find themselves priced out of the market. Problem is, it only will increase the demand for more government subsidies and loans that, in turn, will keep tuition and fees exorbitantly high.
That's only one of the problems that are eating the lunch of startup, middle-class families. Take retirement.
Too soon to be even thinking about it? Consider: One of those TV financial advisers said that you must save at least a half-million dollars to produce sufficient income for your retirement. Sure, especially when college tuition and fees for your kids are sucking up tens of thousands of dollars a year from your income.
Truth is, few people these days can afford to retire. The Social Security system was set up when people's life expectancy and retirement age were equivalent. You weren't expected to live past 65 so Social Security wasn't designed to support increasing millions of men and women who live 20 or more years into retirement. (In 2009, life expectancy at age 65 was 19.2 more years of living and 12.2 more years at age 75, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.)
But it won't matter; Social Security and Medicare will be bust anyway because today's politicians can't figure out how to, or refuse to, fix them.
Then wait until the inevitable inflation hits that will be caused by all the money that the government is creating out of nothing. That half-million dollars you saved for your retirement will be reduced in value to a week's supply of mac and cheese.
If those inflated interest rates don't wreck the economy, then the government's default on its monumental debt surely will.
Here I'm only talking about the financial problems that young families are facing. Never mind having to raise children in today's materialistic, cultural and hedonistic climate.
I'm not a baby boomer, having been born at the start of World War II instead of after. But include my generation with the boomers for having handed today's children this mess. We're the ones who created this destructive culture of violence, immediate gratification and self-indulgence. We've benefited from the stunning medical and technological advances, but we've managed to virtually destroy the nation's moral infrastructure.
Today seniors — my peer group — continue to insist, nay, demand that we get every cent and benefit "we deserve." Even though continuing to do so will destroy those old-age benefits, or bankrupt our children trying to preserve them.
Before we depart this Earth my generation has an opportunity to do at least one thing that benefits our children: Relieve them of the financial anchor that's already starting to drag them down. Contribute a solution to this nation's approach toward debt catastrophe. Understand that our parents — the "greatest generation" — knew the meaning of sacrifice. Absent that, no one will write of us after we're gone that we were the greatest generation. Or anything close to it.
This is my regular Tuesday Chicago Tribune op-ed column