It’s all over now, Baby Boom

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Car­los Bari­en­tos III was born at 6:45 on the evening of De­cem­ber 31, 1964, a few miles north­west of Honolulu. This year, he will turn 50, quite pos­si­bly mak­ing him the last mem­ber of the US “baby boom” to do so. The gen­er­a­tion that once seemed to de­fine for the world the en­ergy, ex­cite­ment, and even ir­ri­tat­ing na­ture of youth will of­fi­cially be “old” – even if, some might say, not en­tirely grown up. But what does this re­ally mean?

The “baby boomers” are the gen­er­a­tion that grew up in the United States, in par­tic­u­lar, but also in Europe, Canada, Aus­tralia, and else­where, after World War II, when rapid eco­nomic growth was ac­com­pa­nied by ris­ing birth rates. Those born dur­ing that 19-year pe­riod – from 1945 to 1964 – were part of the largest, most pros­per­ous, best-ed­u­cated and, some might say, most in­dulged and in­dul­gent gen­er­a­tion that the world has ever seen.

From sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll to the civil rights move­ments to the dot-com and hous­ing bub­bles, for bet­ter or worse, the boomer gen­er­a­tion has shaped mod­ern so­ci­ety. And with one of its younger mem­bers cur­rently in the White House, and oth­ers at Down­ing Street, the El­y­see Palace, and the Ger­man Chan­cellery, it will con­tinue to do so for years to come.

But there are stark dif­fer­ences within the boomer gen­er­a­tion. Early boomers – be­gin­ning with Kath­leen Casey-Kirschling, whose birth one sec­ond past mid­night on New Year’s Day, 1946, has made her a mi­nor celebrity – grew up sur­rounded by the hip­pie coun­ter­cul­ture, the mu­sic of the Bea­tles and Bob Dy­lan, and the Viet­nam war.

By con­trast, Bari­en­tos and the other boomers of 1964 grew up play­ing video games and lis­ten­ing to disco mu­sic – or, if their tastes were closer to those of Bari­en­tos, the heav­ier sounds of Gary Moore, Thin Lizzy, and Van Halen. In fact, Bari­en­tos, who owns and run his own gui­tar shop with his fa­ther, does not read­ily iden­tify him­self as a baby boomer; he feels closer to the “Gen­er­a­tion X” that fol­lowed.

But Bari­en­tos’s in­ter­ests are not all that set him apart from the likes of Casey-Kirschling. While many of the early US baby boomers are now com­fort­ably re­tired, en­joy­ing the ben­e­fits of Medi­care, So­cial Se­cu­rity, and tax-free Roth IRA dis­burse­ments, Bari­en­tos is still in his prime – and con­cerned about his re­tire­ment.

By 2031, when Bari­en­tos and the rest of the baby boomers are re­tired, more than 20% of the US pop­u­la­tion will be at least 65 years old, com­pared with only 13% in 2010. As a re­sult, the old-age de­pen­dency ra­tio (the num­ber of peo­ple aged 65 or over rel­a­tive to the workingage pop­u­la­tion) is set to rise from 1:5 to 1:3. This will in­ten­sify pres­sure on state pen­sion funds and health-care sys­tems con­sid­er­ably.

As Bari­en­tos puts it, “It’s not like my dad’s gen­er­a­tion, where you worked a job for a cer­tain amount of time, saved some money, and then stopped work­ing.” In­stead, he ex­plains, “we just do what we can…and keep mov­ing for­ward.”

Not that Bari­en­tos would swap places with his fa­ther. “I think I’ve been blessed in com­par­i­son to pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions,” he says. “Even com­pared to older mem­bers of my gen­er­a­tion, I haven’t had to fight for my free­dom. I didn’t have to go to Viet­nam. I’ve been able to ben­e­fit from the hard work of peo­ple be­fore me.”

Def­i­ni­tions of the post-war baby boom vary by coun­try. Bari­en­tos’s claim to be the last US boomer rests on Hawaii’s po­si­tion as Amer­ica’s most west­erly state in a time zone two hours be­hind the Pa­cific coast. It also means, though, that he lives a life that is some­what dif­fer­ent from that of many of his peers on the main­land. “The food, the lan­guage, the weather – Hawaii isn’t like the rest of the US,” he notes. “The first time I left Hawaii, I was 25 years old. I went to Maryland to visit a friend for two weeks and ended up stay­ing five years be­cause I loved it so much.”

If he had the money, Bari­en­tos says he would prob­a­bly be a “snow bird” – spend­ing sum­mers on the US main­land and win­ter in Hawaii. “There are things I’d like to do with my fam­ily that we just can’t do here, such as [go­ing to] mu­se­ums, amuse­ment parks, or large sport­ing events.” He could not leave per­ma­nently, though – there are too many things to en­joy at home. “I love the peo­ple, the cul­ture – pretty much ev­ery­thing.”

When Bari­en­tos and his fam­ily spill out onto the beach to cel­e­brate New Year’s Eve with the whole neigh­bour­hood, one of the last things he will think about is his age. “I don’t have time to be wor­ry­ing about that!” he says.

What about his sta­tus as the last of a gen­er­a­tion? “I don’t know whether I’m the last baby boomer or not,” Bari­en­tos muses. “If there was any­one born in Hawaii later than 6:45 on De­cem­ber 31, 1964, then they’ve got me beat. But, you know what, if it means I get to meet some new peo­ple and talk about it, then it’s def­i­nitely cool.”

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