Monday, February 27, 2006

Ten ways in which I’ve got nothing in common with someone three years older (b. 1961) . . . and how a born-1961 boomer more closely resembles someone born in 1901

Sorry about the long title, and for being off-air for the last week. I went away for a few days, but my main excuse is having been sick, sick, sick.

Anyway, today’s post is inspired by having read (sorta) Ryan Heath’s Please Just F* Off: It's Our Turn Now, of which I hope to post a review tomorrow.

Some examples of Australian 1961-born – each from a modest background and who all seem to consider themselves as having a social conscience – are: Mark Latham, Julia Gillard and Tony Moore (Pluto Press publisher).


Here’s my top-ten list, of a 1964-born Xer being on a different planet from a 1961-born boomer:

1. Access to “preserved” superannuation

Someone born in June 1961 will have access to this at age 56, while someone born in July 1964 (Disclosure: this is tweaking my real DOB by a few days) will have to wait until they’re 60. While the “same as 1901, for the boomer” test obviously is without direct equivalence, the striking point is what a difference a mere three years (plus one day) makes. The changes to accessing preserved superannuation – raising the minimum age from 55 to 60, with a 5 year taper – were made decades in advance, in the early 1990s. It is bizarre that the 1961-born, who don’t even turn 55 until 2016, are only at the soft inside-edge of the 5 year taper, rather than well past its “pointy” end.

2. Homelessness rates

1976 – 10% of homeless (men) are under 25
1986 – 40% of homeless (men and women) are under 25
2005 – 46% of homeless (men and women) are under 25
(1901 figures unknown)

3. Paying for tertiary education

Admittedly, not many born-1964 Xers were still at uni in 1989 (the year HECS was introduced). But I certainly was – doing what would have been my penultimate year, but because of HECS became my last year (I did graduate, but ditched an arts honours year). In case you’re wondering what a 24-going-on-25 y.o. was doing at uni anyway, the story is that I deferred for a year twice (pre- and mid-course), both times to save money by working full-time; plus my arts (hons)/law course was (or at least would have been) six years long.

As for the “same as 1901, for the boomer” test, tertiary education was not, of course, generally free in 1901 – but I’m assuming that scholarships for the smartest were available back then. Indeed, what is unique about my (and others’) predicament in 1989 is that this was the first time a smart student, in particular, was being expected to pay for their tertiary education – not as in “first time since 1972” but as in first time ever. Oh, and existing students weren’t even grandfathered from HECS. Had I been starting university in 1989, I would have at least been able to see the writing on the wall in time – that a seismic shift of resources from young to old was taking place, involving a complete “Fuck You” to the former – and not have bothered wasting my time and money.

Update 28 March 2006

Participation rates for commencing higher education were markedly different between the 1961-born and the 1965-born, as shown by this longitudinal study (PDF).

Even I was surprised by this pre-HECS data, which seems to have gone little remarked upon. What it boils down to is that higher ed-participation fell – not steeply, but still, I’d guess, the only such fall in Australian history – in the boomer-to-Xer transition years, aka demographic cliff (from 1961-born to 1965-born).

More dramatic here was the higher ed-participation fall-off among the first Xers from parental backgrounds other than professionals. In other words, it was only young, disproportionately-optimistic (back then), Xer children of professionals (that’s me) who plugged what would have otherwise been a quite nasty hole in enrolments in 1984.

And to think that we GenX intelligentsia actually thought at the time that we were lucky to be going to uni. It now turns out then we were the only ones who hadn’t yet sniffed the distinct odour of Sinking Ship. So we became cannon-fodder for the culture wars (pomo, etc), not realising our true cynical, disposable roles until much later.

4. Home ownership

(Disclosure/ “Sliding Doors” rewind: had I not gone to university, I would most likely now own a fully-paid off home worth a few hundred-thou. As things stand, my total assets are worth about $5,000)

5. Assets/income compared to one’s parents (at same age)

A general rule has prevailed since at least 1901: that major depressions aside, each new generation does a bit better economically than its parents. This was true as recently as the 1961-born. It is certainly not true in my own case, nor, I suspect, for a majority of Xers.

6. DSP recipient rates

Recipients of the disability support pension have a striking, counter-intuitive mini-peak among those born 1962-1965, while there are almost no DSP recipients who were born in 1960 or 1961. Numbers of DSP recipients that match rates among the oldest Xers are only again reached in the 50+ age group, with those born in or before 1956.

- “Budget to reduce disabled, sole parent benefits” (Graph) AFR 13 April 2005.

7. Fertility rates

Since I’m gay, this one is of marginal direct personal relevance, but there is no doubt that Xers – particularly highly-educated ones – have bred less than boomers. Intriguingly, the ranks of single mothers (or more accurately, Parenting Payment Single recipients) are much more stacked with late boomers (those born up to and including 1961) than early Xers (those born in or after 1962).

- “Budget to reduce disabled, sole parent benefits” (Graph) AFR 13 April 2005.

8. The Yoof Industry

In early 1981, aged 16, I entered an adult poetry competition (unsuccessfully, FWIW). As far as I can recall, there was no “youth” literary/arts anything in those days – one either cut it in the plenary, adult world, or didn’t. Ironically, soon afterwards the election of the Hawke/Keating Labor government in 1983, plus International Youth Year in 1985 begat a thriving “youth” arts/policy industry. This was ironic because career-wise, I missed this boat entirely, not because I was too old, but because the chosen yoof-meisters of 1985 came from a tiny demographic sliver (one that necessarily excluded me): post-university, but still under-25. Yep, you guessed it, the 1961-born (and very few else), like Tony Moore. And ever since 1985, the 1961-born (or older) appear to have held onto their youth industry hegemony.

- Tony Moore, “To praise youth or bury it?” in Glenn Patmore and Dennis Glover eds New Voices – Labor Essays 1999-2000 Pluto Press 1999 pp 216-232

(Disclosure/ “Sliding Doors” rewind: had I not gone to university, I could probably have obtained a youth industry sinecure in 1984 or 1985)

9. Women being discriminated against

For centuries prior to and including the 1961-born, it is unarguable that simply being born male in the West gave one considerable advantages in later life. The patent unfairness of this now mainly-historical anomaly is equally unarguable. More controversial is whether the situation for the post-1961 born, involves gender equality, or actual female preferment. I would argue that the latter is true, albeit it takes a much milder form than the stark male preferment that prevailed for so long historically. However mild, there is still something that rankles me in being on the receiving end of a (generally unacknowledged, and certainly unintentional) historical over-shoot.

(Disclosure: I considered myself a strong feminist while at university. Ironically, I could (still) afford to be one, had I not gone to university. Like (I suspect) most men who were “sold” on feminism, the successful pitch involved a modified form of chivalry – a quality that instantly evaporated(/s) on any level playing field, other than a relatively-cloistered 1980s university.

10. Punk

The punk cliché “no future” (= high 1970’s unemployment, etc) is often trotted out as some sort of corroboration for the fact that late boomers at least, such as the 1961-born, by no means have had an easy ride through life – and albeit more as subtext, that late boomers, in punk, own the last authentic master-key of cultural coolness.

Although once again I have to disclose that, while at university (= the 1980s) I once thought otherwise, today there can be no doubt that punk was the last, wretched spasm of the boomer soixante-huitard counter-culture – before the abandonment of the whole project, via the mass uptake of economic rationalism. As Guy Rundle writes:

“The failure of the cultural revolution . . . burning out in punk and euro-terrorism in the late ‘70s, was an inevitable result of the contradictions it carried within itself, but it has left a vacuum . . . “

- Guy Rundle. “Prospects for political renewal”, in Glenn Patmore and Dennis Glover eds New Voices – Labor Essays 1999-2000 Pluto Press 1999 p 163

Update 24 March 2006

Here’s 11 and 12 on the list

11. The 1961-born can apparently rape children with impunity

“Rape” is the word I believe best describes what the now 44 y.o. Cheryl Whittle did to a then 14 y.o. boy in 1992:

“[Whittle] crept into her son’s bedroom and performed oral sex on his friend, who was sleeping on the floor. She then had penetrative sex with the boy, who pretended to be asleep during the assault. Afterwards he went outside and vomited.”*

For this, Whittle – who then had the boomer gall to pursue the boy for child support, after becoming pregnant by raping him – received a wholly *suspended* jail sentence for her actions.

So what gives? Contrary to some reports, it’s not gender: Xer Karen Ellis was sentenced to real jail time for an offence that was not objectively nearly as serious (Ellis did not force herself on a cowering child).

As “being a boomer” cannot, per se, be invoked as a get out of jail free card, judge Geoff Chettle clutched at three main straws to exculpate her, more or less. Here they are:

- The 12-year delay in reporting the crime constituted “exceptional circumstances”.*

Huh? Most (non-stranger) sexual assault against children is only reported much later. Indeed, a 12-year delay is probably on the short-side of the norm. And there is no issue here of the defendant being geriatric/senile/dying (unlike, say, in the case of some accused Catholic clergy).

- “[Whittle] had endured a confused and chaotic life [having had several drug related convictions, and doing nine months in jail in her late teens for armed robbery].”*

Oh, I get it – every else has prior convictions (which *add* to sentence severity), but boomers have “chaotic life” windfalls; i.e. the more “priors”, the better one’s chances of escaping jail for one’s latest fuck-up.

- Unlike the case of Karen Ellis (a teacher of the boy she assaulted), the boy Whittle raped was not “under her care.”

Yep, age-peer friends of boomers' children, sleeping on their kid’s floor, are in no sense under any adult care. They’re seredipitous playthings for the mum and dad of the house, children who can be raped (and presumably also murdered) with impunity.

* James Madden “Mum of 10 free after sex assault on boy, 14” The Australian 11 March 2006 (no URL)

12. The 1961-born get infinite slack cut when they screw up at work

Or that’s how I interpret the two-months paid leave – “with additional training, counselling and appropriate mentoring” – that 44 y.o. Federal magistrate Jennifer Rimmer has been sentenced to, for several cumulative crimes against competence.

Magistrate Rimmer seems to have got massively behind (as in taking three years to to it) with writing/issuing one particular judgment. Presumably in a panic, she lifted, without attribution, large slabs from another judgment. Curiously, journo Michael Pelly goes on to say:

“After repeated requests from [Chief Federal Magistrate, John] Pascoe, she altered her judgement to contain attribution, but failed to alert the parties — a remarkable lapse for a judicial officer” (same URL).

Umm, let me get this right: Magistrate Rimmer’s inserting a footnote (so as to attribute what she had previously plagarised), but not actually telling anyone else about this new footnote, was her main “lapse”. That is, never mind the three-year delay, and her patent floundering desperation in getting something, anything out on paper. No, these only go to the *quality* of the justice she dispensed in the case. And forget that stuff: as a born-1961 boomer Protected Species, Magistrate Rimmer is apparently entitled to have the gravest possible accusation aginst her be a pissy, procedural non-sequitur.

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