Sunday, May 21, 2006

“Decent and hard-working” boomers concerned about their financial vulnerability in retirement

Hah! As in one day, they might have to downsize from, or at least re-mortgage the family pile (same URL). Diddums. Meanwhile, I’m genuinely looking forward to, and up at, the old-age pension and (with a fair bit of luck, on present indications) a public housing rental unit at 65.

But admittedly not all boomers are equity-windfall home-owners (much less slumlords to renter-for-life Xers, in addition). Gummo Trotsky, if her blog is to be believed, finished high school c. 1973, and has never managed to buy, or at least keep, any real estate in the mean time. Diddums again – but curiously, the reclusive Gummo, currently living in semi-comfort (= on the DSP) as a dazed and medicated hausfrau (same URL), doesn’t share my anticipatory enthusiasm for the OAP, despite her being only a dozen years away from her own jackpot day.

Ah, boomers: they’re just like tired toddlers, except they have twice as much shit to fling around when they have a tanty. But at least their tanties are clockwork-predictable: as long as one doesn’t criticise them in any way (aka say “No!”), they’ll actually let you change their nappy, without them unduly emptying its contents onto you.

Also in my personal boomer dog-house this weekend is Elisabeth Wynhausen, who wrote an article on the public housing estates around Sydney’s Mount Druitt in yesterday’s Weekend Australian Magazine*.

In a nutshell, Wynhausen has again followed in the footsteps of Barbara Ehrenreich – this time, in doing a story on a largely-Xer milieu, but emerging not only none the wiser, but with negative net empathy for her research subjects (the Xer ones, anyway).

There’s no URL, unfortunately for this here typing-dyslexic. So if my following analysis seems sub-standard, please make allowance for the sheer typing grunt required to get even the raw material up.

State housing authorities gradually relinquished [c. 1960s/1970s] the grand egalitarian vision of giving workers on low incomes a chance to own their own homes.”

Strange. While I accept that post-WWII housing was rationed due to materials shortages, surely once these were ironed-out, the free market could and would handle the rest? That is, given the full employment of the time, why would a worker, even one on a low income, need a sustained housing leg-up? (Is Wynhausen simply assuming, a la Mark Latham’s family being in public housing, despite Latham pere working full-time, that a comprehensive housing safety net was still needed for families whose breadwinner drank or gambled his earnings away? If so, I fail to see what was so “grand” about this.)

My point, in case it’s not obvious, is that Wynhausen is bizarrely oblivious to the permanent demise of full employment, from the mid-70s on, having changed everything. Hence, this unctuous pseudo-insight:

Parts of Mount Druitt were still under construction when the government switched to providing housing . . . for *welfare* recipients, turning whole streets into dumping grounds for distressed families . . . [Yet] [w]ithout a doubt, [to this day,] most locals are decent and hard-working.” (Emphasis added)

Nice. Addicted fuck-ups like Latham pere, who only had a job because of the boom times, are/were apparently highly deserving of public housing, while welfare recipients, such as the involuntarily unemployed, are low-life blights on the neighbourhood.

This perverse (to me; maybe to a boomer it makes sense) dichotomy reappears in the sad story of 40 y.o. Lee Francis – similarly aged to me, and also like me, currently unemployed but has not always been so.

Wynhausen gives Lee Francis an implicit big tick because, while he lives in a public-housing-dominated suburb, his actual place is a private rental property (at $135/week, a huge chunk of his dole). Moreover, he keeps it “spotless” – and he does all this after having chosen to leave a public housing place (direr, but for much cheaper rent, no doubt).

Well, good on him for having landed the cheapest private rental two-bedder in all Sydney, but I’m not sure what Wynhausen’s point is. That kudos to Lee Francis for not having totally given up, and withdrawn into a bludger's perma-coma? (Yet – at some stage, surely the ~$100 a week extra he pays to rent privately will start to look extravagant?) Or does Wynhausen give Lee Francis kudos simply because he is (the odds are) providing a boomer slumlord with a nice little earner? That is, if an Xer can’t be “decent and hard-working”, then they can at least keep their decency by paying much more rent than they can reasonably afford.

Whatever else Wynhausen might think that the future holds for Lee Francis, home ownership is not on his horizon, even remotely. Which may sound like a silly point to make, but at least for a couple of Francis’s boomer co-subjects, home ownership is at least on the distant horizon. To be fair, the home ownership in question is Brent Robertson and his wife helping their three disabled, GenY sons buy a place, but coming on the heels of the Lee Francis story, it leaves me with a cold, queasy anger. Sorry Robertson family, but (non-disabled) Xer Lee Francis should be way, way ahead of you in the home ownership stakes. Of course, this obscene, boomer-and-Yer-preferring juxtaposition is Wynhausen’s fault, not yours.

Two other generational juxtapositions round-out Wynhausen’s offense:

Unemployed, but for occasional casual work, 31 y.o. John Buttigieg says he is better off than the next generation.

(Yes sirree, John - they’ve sure brainwashed you into being “decent”.)

And boomer (I’m guessing) community worker Teddy Hart says this:

I know 60-year-olds who get up at six to go to work each morning. Their sons are lying in bed waiting for the pension.”

“Pension” as in DSP to come later that week (not as in the OAP in 25 to 40 years), I assume. To the extent that the DSP has been used to hide unemployment and/or to medicalise Xer mainly-economic disadvantage, I’m all for the spotlight being shone on these sons in bed. But I don’t think that Teddy Hart has a clue about any of this; nor, sadly, would even the DSP-recipient men’s working fathers. After all, being “decent and hard-working” seems to entitles a boomer to a lifetime gold-pass for the free scapegoating of our generation.

* Elisabeth Wynhausen “Road to nowhere”, Weekend Australian Magazine 20 May 2006

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