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The Kids Are Actually Sort of Alright
October 17, 2011 9:19 PM   Subscribe

The Kids Are Actually Sort of Alright: Why the Current Crop of Twentysomethings Are Going to Be Okay
posted by SkylitDrawl (71 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
A majority of Americans say, for the first time ever, that this generation will not be better off than its parents.

Waitaminutehere. I thought they said that about my generation (class of 90).

The young persons in these slides reflect an extremely random sample of twentysomethings affected by the economy, skewed heavily toward college attendees and acquaintances of New York staffers.

Now that just makes no sense (unless it was a subtle joke).
posted by sourwookie at 9:28 PM on October 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


I know this might read as very woe-is-us, but these are the facts: Nearly 14 percent of college graduates from the classes of 2006 through 2010 can’t find full-time work, and overall just 55.3 percent of people ages 16 to 29 have jobs.
Hmm, it's good to see this statistic out there. I've seen the "the unemployment rate for the college educated is 4%" or whatever bandied about on metafilter, but that's only for people over the age of 25, not the 22-25 year olds who just graduated into the recession, and you don't get the rate for people 25, 26, 27 broken out.

The picture is much, much bleaker for people who have recently graduated.
posted by delmoi at 9:32 PM on October 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


My anecdotal and highly filtered experience (and being 30, I may or may not fit into the picture here, though most of my friends are at least a few years younger than I am) shows a highly educated, highly involved and concerned group of people clinging to the hope that they might find work and value in the current system.

It's a good generation in bad circumstances really not of their making. And there's something which should be truly scary about "losing" the first generation to grow up with the internet. This is vaguely what the OWS-ers are on about. The world created the greatest knowledge-engine in history and then abandoned those who first got to fully taste its fruits and potentially make things better, but no. We'd rather wreck the economy on ponzi schemes and protect those who perpetrated them than reform the system and mindset behind it.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:45 PM on October 17, 2011 [22 favorites]


“I have a lot of regret about going to college,” Sam, the person in my high-school class who’d been most obsessed with getting into a good college, now says. “If I could go back again, I think I’d try … not going to college”—our generation’s ultimate blasphemy.

Yep, that's me
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:47 PM on October 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


A majority of Americans say, for the first time ever, that this generation will not be better off than its parents.

Waitaminutehere. I thought they said that about my generation (class of 90).


We're gonna have to wait and see if any generation beyond the boomers can a) retire or b) count on medicare before we make the final determination, but as of right now, I'm entirely comfortable making the statement that my parents' generation had it better off than we do. Really the only place where we have them beat is we don't have to worry about the draft. Everything else tips in their favor.
posted by incessant at 9:51 PM on October 17, 2011 [12 favorites]


The kids were always alright. I look forward to when they rule the world. Maybe they'll have the interest and leverage to fix some of the mistakes of their preceding generations.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:52 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


as of right now, I'm entirely comfortable making the statement that my parents' generation had it better off than we do

That's not the point he was making. The point is, the statement is wrong. This isn't the "first time ever" that the current batch of kids won't be better off than their parents. They've been saying this since Generation X (and they were right). We're on, like, Generation Z at this point. Same goes for the "first generation to grow up with the internet." Gen-Y grew up with the internet.

The current generation is really grasping at straws to define themselves as "the first generation to… something."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:11 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


he current generation is really grasping at straws to define themselves as "the first generation to… something."

The first generation to be expected to completely change the world around them sometime between Senior Prom and Frosh?
posted by Seiten Taisei at 10:20 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]



That's not the point he was making. The point is, the statement is wrong. This isn't the "first time ever" that the current batch of kids won't be better off than their parents. They've been saying this since Generation X (and they were right). We're on, like, Generation Z at this point. Same goes for the "first generation to grow up with the internet." Gen-Y grew up with the internet.

The current generation is really grasping at straws to define themselves as "the first generation to… something."


We are the sons of no-one. The bastards of young.

But seriously the generation below mine grew up with the Internet. I knew a time before it.

The only media I've experienced that gibed with my view of my generation was Scott Pilgrim. that sense of randomness, of emotional highs followed by sitting around playing vidoegames for ages, of music that's half-ironic and half-sincere....
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:24 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


A majority of Americans say, for the first time ever, that this generation will not be better off than its parents.

I guess partly because I was raised by a working-class lady who got her GED after having her first kid at 16, but what with the legal access to abortion and the ability to be queer in public (much less get married) and the fact that I am even GETTING a PhD (quite separate from whether I'll get a job after), among other things, it just seems worth remembering that economic indicators are only part of the story.
posted by liketitanic at 10:26 PM on October 17, 2011 [12 favorites]


This has happened before, but it doesn't make it any easier to live through for those who are just entering the job market. Although, honestly, not having a BA or a BSC isn't likely to make things any easier.
posted by jrochest at 10:33 PM on October 17, 2011


This has happened before, but it doesn't make it any easier to live through for those who are just entering the job market.

Well, sure. I don't think anyone who is opposed to hyperbole is also saying it is somehow easier to live through. But I do think it's fair to say that really meaningful historical comparisons are difficult to make and far too dependent on context to be useful in a shorthand way. (This is the downside of being a historian. The other downside is that watching the History Channel has actually become painful.)
posted by liketitanic at 10:35 PM on October 17, 2011


[A few things removed; let's skip the whole invoking/linking people who aren't here thing.]
posted by cortex at 10:35 PM on October 17, 2011


according to that..generational theory thing, we're in the middle of the Big Joiner phase, civic-minded, okay with groups, idealistic and open-minded with the idea of the whole in mind.

So, that's fun. Let's not fuck that up, k?
posted by The Whelk at 10:44 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I may be alwrong here, but is someone who can't spell "all right" fit to judge?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:44 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


or as I sometimes called it, Generation Boy Scout but hey no that's really cool too it's so SUPER ORGANIZED
posted by The Whelk at 10:45 PM on October 17, 2011


But we're joining things because we're looking for SOMETHING to belong to
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:47 PM on October 17, 2011


But we're joining things because we're looking for SOMETHING to belong to

I see. So every preceding generation was comprised of socially isolated hermits, were they?

The entirety of human civilization can be described as a bunch of people looking for something to belong to.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:19 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I never said anything about this generation was any different. That's what's hilarious. People think they can make a lasting difference.

But seriously:

Internet/Facebook/mass connectivity
Gay rights
Videogames as mass artform
Drone warfare
remix culture
all are going to leave their stamp
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:21 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


So, basically, suffering builds character.

I can buy that. I've always thought I had more in common with my grandparents generation than my parents. not that I'm claiming to be on par with the greatest generation, but I've found a lot of comfort in looking to them for wisdom and inspiration in lieu of the sometimes hapless boomers.
posted by Nixy at 11:24 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


So, basically, suffering builds character.

If I recall generation theory correctly, common cultural events build character in different ways. Suffering builds character in one way, prosperity in another way. Right now, we're in a lot of suffering, at levels unseen since the end of WWII in most of the world, or the Great Depression in the US.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:35 PM on October 17, 2011


Lovecraft In Brooklyn: "The only media I've experienced that gibed with my view of my generation was Scott Pilgrim. that sense of randomness, of emotional highs followed by sitting around playing vidoegames for ages, of music that's half-ironic and half-sincere...."

Just like every white middle-class American male since the early 80s! Hold the presses.
posted by barnacles at 11:41 PM on October 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


What's that? They are? Alright, fine. Stay on my lawn.

What do you mean, they're "occupying it"?
posted by bicyclefish at 11:46 PM on October 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


I have a lot of sympathy for 20-somethings in America.

Dude, I graduated in 1996. Prepare resumes during my senior year of college? Why? You could walk into a temp. agency in a big city and have a decent paying job by lunchtime.

So yeah, the Baby Boomers fucked it up.

Class warfare? Generational warfare?

You've earned both.

Now get off of my virtual lawn.
posted by bardic at 12:00 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm on the cusp of Big Joiner, but I support its ethos. With regards to that EVERYONE GETS BIG HUGS.
posted by The Whelk at 12:14 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


basically it's all being run by Virgos IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN
posted by The Whelk at 12:16 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been putting a lot of thought into what might be called Planning For Decline.

We spend most of our effort as individuals (and collectively, as a culture) working for "growth", however that might be defined: more prosperity, more income, higher living standards, more people, higher GDP. But the middle class in the US has been on a slow, steady decline for at least the last decade (the current recession exacerbated the trend, but did not cause it).

And - as much as I think it sucks - I think a realistic, pragmatic participation in that process, a recognition that materially, each new generation may not do quite as well their parents, playing out over the next several decades, is not entirely a bad thing.

All growth inevitably faces decline. Just as the international influence of the US in foreign policy and economics is very slowly waning, giving way to a more conciliatory, cooperative nature that may yield better negotiated results, I'd like to think that the environment that the coming generations find themselves in might promote a reassessment of values, and a deeper consideration of what makes "work" and "family", and why.

Nations, just like people, can approach maturity and middle age with an acknowledgement that while they may not have all the energy and ability of youth, a portion of that has been exchanged for wisdom. The alternative is to deny that any change is occurring, turn into a stereotype, buy that red sports car and burn rubber right to the very end.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 1:58 AM on October 18, 2011 [10 favorites]


Our generation is the product of two long-term social experiments conducted by our parents. The first sought to create little hyperachievers encouraged to explore our interests and talents, so long as that could be spun for maximum effect on a college application.... In the second experiment, which was a reaction to their own distant moms and dads, our parents tried to see how much self-confidence they could pack into us, like so many overstuffed microfiber love seats, and accordingly we were awarded clip-art Certificates of Participation just for showing up.

Yep, this is pretty much the same paragraph that was often written in the early 1990s when my cohort was 22 and 23, to explain why we, the young Gen-Xers, presented the economy with a conundrum it could not be expected to absorb. Oh, and also that "hook-up culture" made it unlikely we'd be able to get happily married. You knew that was old too, right?

Just so you know, twenty-somethings, we turned out fine -- or at least we turned out pretty much like the "boomers," the "greatest," and every other generation.
posted by escabeche at 5:09 AM on October 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


We're gonna have to wait and see if any generation beyond the boomers can a) retire or b) count on medicare before we make the final determination, but as of right now, I'm entirely comfortable making the statement that my parents' generation had it better off than we do. Really the only place where we have them beat is we don't have to worry about the draft. Everything else tips in their favor.

Yeah, no kidding. My love for the boomers is pretty much at an all time low. In fairness, though, they have fucked themselves, too -- I know a lot of people who are ready to retire... but can't because their 401k's have plummeted and their houses are underwater and who are basically totally screwed. It may not be fun to be 22 in this economy, but that's a lot better than being 65 with no savings and a lot of health care needs.

My anecdotal and highly filtered experience (and being 30, I may or may not fit into the picture here, though most of my friends are at least a few years younger than I am) shows a highly educated, highly involved and concerned group of people clinging to the hope that they might find work and value in the current system.

Equally anecdotal and highly filtered, especially by geography (I am living in an area where unemployment numbers are much lower than nationally), but the young, college-educated people I know are doing somewhat ok, pretty similar to how my cohort did in the mid-90's. A lot of part time and crappy jobs for a few years while coming to the realization that grad school might be a good idea; the people with family connections always do great and everyone else resents their privileged asses; and that sinking feeling that student loans maybe weren't such a hot idea.

But nationally I think things are worse, and I wouldn't be at all surprised that the experience collectively shapes that generation. The collective sense of being lied to, especially, will be key.

At the same time, and I know we have discussed this before here, but there's a weird disconnect going on in terms of people and hiring. The aggregate unemployment numbers are really dire, but everyone I know who is hiring is struggling to find qualified applicants; this applies to both blue- and white-collar jobs. I suspect that there is a deeper story, whereby highly skilled welders, truck drivers, and geologists have unemployment rates so low as to be hard to count, and the gazillions of less skilled generalists are really struggling. But that's 100 percent anecdotal, and might be completely unsupported by fact, I don't know. It's just really striking to me how hard it is to find people with specific qualifications at same time that millions of people are facing foreclosure and eviction from unemployment.
posted by Forktine at 5:22 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, escabeche. I just re-read Douglas Coupland's Generation X for the first time since the 90's, and it was striking how familiar it all felt. It's pre-Internet of course, but other than that could have been written today. Parts of this article echo that book in a remarkably similar way, especially that excerpt you posted above.
posted by apricot at 5:22 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm conflicted about a lot of this stuff, both personally and theoretically.

On one hand, I'm pretty lucky. I went to law school and managed to land a job afterward. It wound up sucking, but I leveraged it into a job I actually like. On the other hand, I'm in flyover country 600 miles from my nearest relative, I pay 50% more for student loans than for rent, I can't really save any money, and my potential for income growth, while real, is limited to the point that it'll probably take me five or six years to end up where I would have started if the economy didn't suck so bad. So while my story is decidedly not one of active material hardship, the social and cultural/spiritual aspects of my life have taken a huge hit, and I've really had to resign myself to limited expectations on the material front. I didn't "make it" as much as I simply managed to avoid flaming out and moving home (and I was about two months from doing that when I landed my first job). Again, I'm sure people would kill to be where I am, but if anything, that just sort of shows how bad things are. The fact that a middle-middle class lifestyle one hit of bad luck from coming off the rails is suddenly an enviable position should not be encouraging to anyone.

So I drive to work in BFE Indiana, and I see "Occupy [my town]" people by the courthouse. First, there are about two of them, so it's not like we've got ourselves a real protest here. But second... I mean, yeah, I'm upset too, but none of the people who have anything to do with what you're upset about are anywhere near you. Even if you moved two blocks down to be in front of an actual bank, all the decisions that piss you off were made no closer than the state capital, 120 miles away, and were more likely made in Chicago, New York, or DC, hundreds and hundreds of miles from here. The idea that camping out in a city park with a sign will have any affect on anything is a little strange to begin with, but when said park isn't even in the same state as the theoretical objects of protest, it all starts to look a bit wankish.

Then there's the fact that yeah, we probably could use some adjustment to our expectations. Americans have been living wildly beyond our means* for the last sixty years, and the idea that we can all live lives that would make Louis XIV green with envy just doesn't have legs. If it takes a recession to remind us of the need for moderation, that may be no bad thing.

But opposite that, there's some real generational inequity going on here. The Boomers and their parents are consuming an absolutely vast chunk of our salaries, both in terms of taxes (Social Security + Medicare = like 40% of the budget) and health care benefits, as the only reason I'm paying as much premium as I do is that I'm picking up the tab for a bunch of oldsters elsewhere in the system. Our parents and grandparents got to go to school for free, or at least for very little. We have to mortgage our future to pay our own way. So they got subsidies for education going in and subsidies for health care going out. And we're picking up the tab.

Fuck. That. Shit. It's time to spread the pain around. My income and health benefits aren't guaranteed by anyone, and there's no goddam reason why turning 65 should magically mean that yours are. I've resigned myself to the fact that I can't have everything I want, but dammit, I shouldn't be the only one, particularly when I'm doing better than a lot of my peers. When we're choosing between having health insurance at all or simply going without, the idea that the only sacrifice a retiree has to make is choosing a slightly less posh retirement community just ain't going to fly.

*I don't mean irresponsible consumerism as much as I mean just consuming way more resources than is sustainable. We use too much stuff, too much energy, to keep this going for any extended period of time.
posted by valkyryn at 5:29 AM on October 18, 2011 [11 favorites]


valkyryn, it's not at all time to spread the pain around. It's time to demand the same assurances for everyone, which is why those two people you drive past are in front of the courthouse are there. The US has the resources to make those assurances (or at least the money machines it houses and enables do) so there's no moral reason not to expect them for you and me too. My grandparents are doing poorly enough as it is, and the tiny doublewide they've retired to, no matter how posh it deem it, is still a doublewide.

We may have been lied to, but demanding retribution rather than repair is just boomer thinking.
posted by postcommunism at 6:20 AM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Fuck. That. Shit. It's time to spread the pain around. My income and health benefits aren't guaranteed by anyone, and there's no goddam reason why turning 65 should magically mean that yours are.

There is a plate of 12 cookies. Wall Street takes 11 cookies, looks at you, and says "Watch out - those retirees are trying to steal your cookie!"

I get where you're coming from, but when you talk about spreading the pain around fairly, retirees are so far down the list of people not doing their share that it's jarring to see you gunning for them.

If you look at countries with less income inequality, you'll see a correlation with stronger social safety nets. Stronger safety nets are part of the solution, not part of the problem. Tear them down, and you start exacerbating income inequality, and you reduce social mobility, and you end up with the situation in the USA, the one that is screwing you over.

I think retirees should have security. You and I will be in those shoes someday. If your trade is labor, and you're 70, your body will be wrecked and you won't be able to help or save yourself by competing in the workforce. If there isn't a safety net, the real-world consequences of "sharing the pain" is that you're talking about a society that is happy to put its elderly out on the streets to die. I don't want to live in that society. Not just because it is a nasty society to live in, but because that gun barrel will inevitably turn on me too.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:20 AM on October 18, 2011 [12 favorites]


If you look at countries with less income inequality, you'll see a correlation with stronger social safety nets. Stronger safety nets are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

I beg to differ. Countries with stronger safety nets are now facing massive sovereign debt crises. The UK is gutting its system. Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain are all facing the prospect of sovereign default in the immediate to intermediate future. France is looking increasingly shaky, and a big part of their "success" is that they've concentrated their social ills on immigrants and the young (unemployment in the banlieues is in excess of 40% in some places), so maybe that isn't something we want to emulate. Germany seems to be doing okay, but they've also got a positive savings rate and the only genuine export economy in Europe, so it's hard to argue that the difference between us and them is the safety net.

Income inequality isn't the real problem here. It's a problem, yes, but the problem of overspending on health care is orders of magnitude bigger. I'm not arguing that something shouldn't be done about income inequality--but fuck me if I have any actual ideas about what to do about it, not that OWS or anyone else has any either--I'm arguing that even if we fix that, we'll still have problems with health care spending. As a percentage of GDP, it's gone up by a factor of almost three in the last fifty years alone. More to the point, all those countries with more "robust" safety nets? They spend less on health care than we do! Even if we decided to emulate European nations, which I maintain is a bad idea, we'd need to cut our health care spending, both private and public, by about 40%, call it a total of $900 billion a year.

Now here's the thing: considering that we spend almost that much on end-of-life care, i.e. the last six months of life, this isn't that hard. But it means that we can't spend arbitrary amounts of money on octogenarian cancer patients. Really, take our current health care system, lop off the majority of end-of-life spending, and bingo!, you've got yourself something like a financially sustainable system. But that means telling seniors that they can no longer expect to have the system spend $250,000+ each so that they can have an extra three months of life before they die of what we knew was going to kill them all along.
posted by valkyryn at 6:51 AM on October 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


I get where you're coming from, but when you talk about spreading the pain around fairly, retirees are so far down the list of people not doing their share that it's jarring to see you gunning for them.

Again, it's a numbers game. See my previous comment. Income inequality may be bad, but it's not the real problem. Your perception of just how much money is going to rich people is skewed. Take all of that wealth the "the 1%" has and spread it around, and you can finance our national health care spending for a year or so. Then it's gone, and we're even more screwed. The income disparity is also bad, but again, spread it around and you're only taking an extra couple grand a head. Which isn't nothing, but it's also not enough to make the kind of difference we need.
posted by valkyryn at 6:55 AM on October 18, 2011


His thoughts were red thoughts: "But we're joining things because we're looking for SOMETHING to belong to

I see. So every preceding generation was comprised of socially isolated hermits, were they?

The entirety of human civilization can be described as a bunch of people looking for something to belong to.
"

I'm looking for ways to get away from everything that everyone wants me to belong to.
posted by symbioid at 7:22 AM on October 18, 2011


I'm 25. I work a part-time job that more-or-less covers my bills, and I sell vintage books at the flea market so I can save a little money to start the small business of my dreams. I'm lucky, and I know I'm lucky, because my family pays for my health insurance-- otherwise I wouldn't be saving anything. If we had a better social safety net I'd be starting that small business right now. As it is, I just don't know if or when it's ever going to happen-- even if I had the money to get started, would the market be there for what I'm selling in this economy?

So sometimes I look at the vast corporations that overpay their CEOs while laying people off, and I look at other people my age who are also struggling with no end in sight, and I look at my friends who would be doing something creative that makes them happy if they could risk it-- though they can't, not and still guarantee having a place to sleep and food to eat-- and I get pretty pissed off at the state of things. I don't know if that's terribly coherent, but that's where I'm standing right now.
posted by nonasuch at 7:37 AM on October 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


The income disparity is also bad, but again, spread it around and you're only taking an extra couple grand a head. Which isn't nothing, but it's also not enough to make the kind of difference we need.

I would dispute that. The mean household income in the US is about 40% higher than the median income (approximately $60.5k vs $44.3k in 2004). That's a very significant difference.

Income inequality isn't the real problem here. It's a problem, yes, but the problem of overspending on health care is orders of magnitude bigger.

This is not true. Income inequality at the household level (as measured by the difference between the median and the mean) is about $16,200 per household per year. The amount we spend on healthcare compared to the OECD average is about $9,360 per household per year (which is indeed a massive waste).

Even granting that some level of income inequality is okay, overspending on healthcare is not orders of magnitude bigger than income inequality.
posted by jedicus at 7:43 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


hi im 26 and i have a job for now but maybe i will not next month. i had a life plan that got derailed in 2008 and looks like it will not be realistic to rerail, but these things happen. i know how to do a number of things and have a very close very supportive extended family. i maintain that i will work shit out if it fucking kills me, but also that i am an inheritor of a societal dryfuck that began in the reagan era. that is a long time to be dryfucked.

i was also surprised that the article seems to focus on privileged people who have cut themselves off from any kind of political or social involvement, but maybe that is because it is ny magazine? even the more apolitical people i know tend to express their frustration and despair in terms of politics/economics.
posted by beefetish at 7:47 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Countries with stronger safety nets are now facing massive sovereign debt crises. The UK is gutting its system. Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain are all facing the prospect of sovereign default in the immediate to intermediate future.

This is specious. First of all, the Scandinavian countries, with their robust safety nets, are conspicuously absent. Second, the UK and Irish austerity moves are roundly noted for being destructive. Third, while it is true that the countries you listed are struggling, each one of those countries had different causes to the problems they face. What I see you saying is something along these lines:
1. Countries A,E, and G are in crisis,
2. Countries A,E, and G have social safety nets,
3. I'm not going to say that first causes the second, but I will arrange this carefully selected list of countries and note that it is suspiciously meaningful that these #1 and #2 are correlated.
Meanwhile, Italy's problems have to do with the raising of interest rates due to the way the ECB is dealing with eurocrisis. Spain's problems have nothing to do with government expenditures (the government was in the black), but rather the aftermath of private-sector bubble burst and the inability to adjust their currency. Greece's problems have more to do with poor tax-collecting ability coupled with a peculiar form of income distribution in the government sector than actual services delivered to citizens.

Now, you've made this interesting rhetorical move where you recognize that, "all those countries with more "robust" safety nets? They spend less on health care than we do!", but you turn around and say, "Take all of that wealth the "the 1%" has and spread it around, and you can finance our national health care spending for a year or so. Then it's gone, and we're even more screwed."

The fact is, these two issues are completely independent. A "Medicare-for-all" system could, very well, diminish health care costs substantially. Since the government budget problem is, essentially solvable by dealing with health care spending alone, you could really make a serious change to both the budget and health prospects for all Americans in one fell swoop.

Economic injustice is a related issue, but it is it's own issue. Part of dealing with it may involve an honest-to-goodness national health care program, but the idea that economic injustice/inequality is not a problem gives short-shrift to the real research (1, 2a, 2b) that exists that says that it is the problem.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 8:05 AM on October 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


This is not true. Income inequality at the household level (as measured by the difference between the median and the mean) is about $16,200 per household per year.

I'm suspicious of that measurement, as I'm not really sure what it is. I know what median and mean are, and the difference between them. Income inequality is complicated, and I've never seen anyone measure it that way before.

More than that, I was specifically focusing my argument on the whole "99%" phenomenon, which seems to suggest that if only the "top 1%" were somehow... less, we'd fix all our problems. I just don't think you can eliminate the difference between mean and median just by redistributing their income. You'd have to redistribute all the way down to the 51st percentile, wouldn't you? So your numbers don't "grant[] that some level of income inequality is okay," because to get to your $16k figure, you'd need to eliminate it entirely.
posted by valkyryn at 8:08 AM on October 18, 2011


This is specious.

It's no more specious than saying that social safety nets are the solution, because you've got to do as least as much gimmickry with numbers to get that answer as you accuse me of. And if you're going to distinguish those countries with safety nets that are failing on the facts, you also need to distinguish those countries with safety nets that aren't, because their facts are different too. I mean, it's a lot easier to run a robust social safety net when you've got a big chunk of your revenues coming from oil exports.

I wasn't trying to prove that they're necessarily bad, just that they do not seem to be strongly correlated with success or failure, regardless of how those terms are defined.

A "Medicare-for-all" system could, very well, diminish health care costs substantially.

Because spending more on health care is clearly the way to spend less on health care. Maybe if we borrow more money we'll eventually be debt free! And next we'll cure hangovers with bourbon!

Seriously, there haven't been any credible numbers suggesting that this is the case. All this talk of "bending the cost curve" is working alright, but the "bend" is in the wrong direction.

We're never, ever going to reduce health care costs. Not really. Not in any way that matters. Shaving a little off the top here and there isn't going to substantially change anyone's cost structure. What we can do is reduce health care spending. Which means not finding creative ways of getting more for less--ain't no free lunch--but consuming less health care. And you know what? That's what a lot of European countries do, particularly the ones whose health systems aren't on the verge of falling apart. Our cancer survival rates are the best in the world, and cancer is just about the most expensive thing out there. So "Medicare for all" in places like the UK means that yes, you can get health care for free. But you have to wait until it's your turn, sometimes months or years, and you can only get that treatment which is approved for your type of case, which may be less or different than you want. There isn't much in the way of choice, and expensive experimental treatments are generally not covered.

I'm okay with that, actually. I see absolutely no reason why people who cannot pay for ridiculously expensive procedures have any right to expect them to be paid for, nor paid for immediately. And we could pay for an entire neighborhood's preventative care for the cost of one or two cancer patients. If the only way to reduce that kind of wasteful spending is to get the government to do it, I'm not opposed. But expanding Medicare as it's currently operating to cover more people has absolutely zero chance of reducing health care spending, because it's writing a blank check to more people than ever.
posted by valkyryn at 8:22 AM on October 18, 2011


I'm suspicious of that measurement, as I'm not really sure what it is.

It's the difference between household income (broadly measured by the median) and perfectly equal income distribution (as measured by the mean). If everyone's income were the same, then the numbers would be the same.

So your numbers don't "grant[] that some level of income inequality is okay," because to get to your $16k figure, you'd need to eliminate it entirely.

But you were arguing that healthcare overspending (approximately $9360 per household) is multiple (i.e. at least 2) orders of magnitude greater than income inequality. For that to be true, the per-household income inequality in this country would have to be ~$93 per year (i.e. in a perfectly just society people would make about $93 more per year). I don't know exactly what a perfectly just society would look like, but my guess is the difference between that and what we have now is a lot closer to $16,000 per household per year than $93.
posted by jedicus at 8:28 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Because spending more on health care is clearly the way to spend less on health care.

What are you talking about? Medicare is much cheaper than regular insurance when comparing like to like (i.e. adjusting for the fact that Medicare patients tend to be sicker than the general population).

We're never, ever going to reduce health care costs. ... What we can do is reduce health care spending.

I'm not sure I understand the distinction you're trying to make between cost and spending. Prescription drugs are a good example. In general, we pay more in the US for the same drug than other OECD countries. This isn't price discrimination that spreads out the cost of R&D but rather rent seeking that generates profits (and marketing budgets) for the pharma companies. In a universal health care system with negotiated pricing, both the cost of the drugs and (thus) the amount spent would drop. Notably, the cost would not be passed on to society in the form of sicker people because people would still be getting the drug.

So "Medicare for all" in places like the UK means that yes, you can get health care for free. But you have to wait until it's your turn, sometimes months or years, and you can only get that treatment which is approved for your type of case, which may be less or different than you want. There isn't much in the way of choice, and expensive experimental treatments are generally not covered.

First off, the UK is not necessarily the best comparison. Other OECD countries have arguably better healthcare systems for similar costs. Anyway, many of those same criticisms can be levied at the present system in the US: insurance companies refuse to cover treatments, there is often limited choice of healthcare providers, and they often don't cover expensive experimental treatments. And at least the limits in the UK system are primarily decided on the basis of efficacy and cost-effectiveness rather than profitability.

Furthermore, if what you want is to limit spending on healthcare by reducing healthcare consumption, then those aren't downsides to the UK system but rather benefits. It's a system that effectively reduces spending in a rational way.
posted by jedicus at 8:46 AM on October 18, 2011


A marketing manager, poet, English major and college dropout are feeling lost? I know there are instances of people with real degrees who are struggling as well. However I can't help but get the feeling that a large part of the problem with my generation was that constant praise that built our self-esteem to such ridiculous levels. We were told that whatever we wanted to do was just perfect! The reality is you need to learn a marketable skill, whether it's pouring concrete, bio chemistry, engineering, writing code, fixing the myriad mechanical or electronic devices we require, something you can put on a resume that reads, "I can do this task."
posted by karmiolz at 8:52 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's no more specious than saying that social safety nets are the solution, because you've got to do as least as much gimmickry with numbers to get that answer as you accuse me of.

Let me be clear about what I am saying:
1. That creating robust social safety nets is the solution to not having safety nets,
2. Social safety nets are not the causes of the downturn in any country affected by the current crisis,
3. A medicare-for-all system would spend less in health care (with better outcomes)
Lets look at that last point.
A 2003 study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that the United States spends 345 percent more per capita on health administration than our neighbors up north. This is largely because the Canadian system doesn’t have to employ insurance salespeople, or billing specialists in every doctor’s office, or underwriters. Physicians don’t have to negotiate different prices with dozens of insurance plans or fight with insurers for payment. Instead, they simply bill the government and are reimbursed. (via)
I guess my question is, what are the criteria, exactly, to meet your standard for "credible numbers"? It seems to me that the research is roundly on the side of single-payer systems being more efficient.

On the other hand, it seems to me that the "Social Safety net"->"Government budget crisis" implication is more often stated than it is supported by evidence.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 9:01 AM on October 18, 2011


What are you talking about? Medicare is much cheaper than regular insurance when comparing like to like (i.e. adjusting for the fact that Medicare patients tend to be sicker than the general population).

Mostly medicare REIMBURSEMENTS are lower across the board because the feds dictate what they're going to pay. I suspect know you know that, but it's an important distinction for people to understand. There is a difference between the costs (what it costs a provider to deliver care) and how much any given payor coughs up for it. The delta in medicare's case comes from those with worse bargaining power. I.e. private insurers and the uninsured.

Everyone not covered under CMS gets overcharged for care to compensate for the losses providers suffer as a result of low reimbursements. Increase the number of people on medicare, and private insurance will cost proportionally more, at least in the short term.

This is not an argument against medicare or a single payor system. This is an argument *for* a rationalized single payor system. We essentially have socialized medicine, it's just socialized in the least efficient way imaginable.

But, of course, everything is more complicated than it seems. Physician supply is artificially constrained by doctors and medical schools seeking to maintain their prestige. Our appetite for care is greater than our need for care (it's basically unlimited. why WOULDN'T I want an MRI to rule out something unlikely?). Costs are totally hidden from consumers. Federal funds cover a majority of high-risk basic health science in universities and then we give away the IP for pennies on the collective dollar so some big company can turn around and make enough money to market it. Fantastic system we've got here.

You really can't even call it a system if every link in the chain is incentivized to extract money from every other link so that they can afford to cover losses extracted from still other links. Not even sure who might be getting rich off this stuff, since all I hear about are pharma research facilities being shuttered and major health care systems freaking out about shrinking margins.

Worst. Healthcare System. Ever.

Sorry, that might be getting a bit off topic, but it sure does contribute to The Kids' anxiety.
posted by pjaust at 9:21 AM on October 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm not sure I understand the distinction you're trying to make between cost and spending. Prescription drugs are a good example.

No, actually, they aren't. Take a look at a bill for an outpatient procedure sometime. Drugs, while admittedly overpriced, are a tiny fraction of the whole cost. Even if we were able to negotiate a better price for them, we'd be maybe knocking a few points off the total. Even for things like chronic medication, which can admittedly be expensive, a single day in the hospital can easily pay for a year of several medications. The reason so many people complain about medication costs is because they're one of the few things that Americans still pay for directly. So we bitch about spending a few hundred or even thousand bucks a year on diabetes and BP medication while the five-figure price of chemotherapy generally gets ignored because consumers don't have to pay it.

The distinction I'm drawing is that there's a difference between something costing less money, and spending less money on something, because overall level of consumption can also change. When people say we need to "Control health care costs," what they usually mean is "We need to maintain our current level of consumption while paying less for it." I don't think that's really possible. It's true that we spend more than other countries on health care, but most of that is directly on end-of-life care, and much of the cost in other procedures can be attributed to cost spreading, i.e. they'd be cheaper if they didn't also have to subsidize end-of-life care.

This is why Medicare looks cheap in some analyses. It's true that the government pays less per procedure than many other insurers. This just means that hospitals treat Medicare patients as a loss-leader and make up the difference in reimbursements from private insurance. Which actually drives up the cost of health care for everyone that isn't on Medicare. Which also means that just putting everyone on Medicare wouldn't fix this, because now there wouldn't be anyone else to pick up the rest of the tab. There are actually practices that put caps on their number of Medicare patients, and even more than put caps on their Medicaid patients, as that program pays even worse than Medicare. Indeed, there are an increasing number of hospitals that don't take Medicaid patients at all. It's just not worth it.

So rather than simply say that everything needs to be cheaper, the only solution going forward is consuming less health care, particularly in the last six months of life. If it were, my health care would be cheaper.

I saw this firsthand at my last job. My employer was spending about $6,000 a year on my health plan. I had just come from a private plan which cost me about $1,500 a year. I wasn't allowed to just take the $6,000 or even some fraction of it and buy a plan on the private market either. So a double-digit percentage of my salary was going into health insurance that I didn't really need, because the average age of the company's employee population was well north of 40, and they had at least a dozen people on the rolls, not in executive positions, who were north of 70. All those oldsters--including Parkinsonian ones--meant that my salary was way lower than it would have been otherwise.
posted by valkyryn at 9:42 AM on October 18, 2011


This just means that hospitals treat Medicare patients as a loss-leader and make up the difference in reimbursements from private insurance. Which actually drives up the cost of health care for everyone that isn't on Medicare

What evidence do you have for this? It seems to me that Ezra Klein is better substantiated:
At the beginning of each year, providers decided whether they will do business with Medicare. In other words, they choose whether or not to accept public insurance like Medicare or Medicaid. Almost all of them choose to do so, because providing health services to Medicare patients is actually a very profitable business (Medicaid patients, less so). But you can go here for a list of "participating" physicians. And for all the talk of underpayment, these providers don't participate because the law says they have to. It doesn't. They can refuse to participate in Medicare just as they can refuse to participate in Aetna. But by and large, they don't refuse, because it's good business to work with Medicare. (via)
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 10:14 AM on October 18, 2011


The kids will be alright. You know what they're growing up with? Google and Android and social networking and iOS and access to information that is unprecedented throughout the entirety of history, all of which is leagues above the internet Gen Y grew up with. They will grow up with more positive attitudes toward people who are gay, they will have a better understanding of diet and healthy food production and pollution, they will be driving electric cars.

Everybody always thinks the next generation down is going to be for shit. That things will run out, that they won't be educated enough or too educated, whatever. Every past generation for the past few millenia was wrong, so I'd wager that we are wrong too, because look at us now: on the we are balance of better off versus worse off, we are clearly better off than most generations prior.

Okay, here's what the next generation will have to solve: how to take all of the resources and knowledge we have and efficiently care for our sick and and for our elderly. Right? That's the big issue that everybody seems to be arguing about? We'll, this is a relatively new thing for us to do in the U.S., so we have a bunch of king-sized bumps in the road, and a bunch of fear-mongering, and whatever goes along with typical struggles that come along with advances in society, but it can be solved (progressively, in my opinion).

I'm glad I don't live in valkyryn's world, full of bitterness at the older generation. As it turns out, valkyryn, you seem to be doing alright. You've made decisions that you hopefully don't regret, because I bet you are a great attorney that is worth every dollar you spent on your education, and you are going to be alright and you will make more money someday despite the oldie oldsters that are cramping your pay increases.

(Think of everything else you may be subsidizing besides your coworkers' healthcare: cable tv, because you don't watch as much as other people paying the same; library cards, because you don't check out as many books; internet service, because you don't consume as much data; car insurance, because you don't get into as many accidents; the cost of an produce, because you only buy produce in season; car registration taxes, because you don't spend as much time on the road; etc.)
posted by jabberjaw at 10:19 AM on October 18, 2011


No, actually, they aren't. Take a look at a bill for an outpatient procedure sometime. Drugs, while admittedly overpriced, are a tiny fraction of the whole cost. Even if we were able to negotiate a better price for them, we'd be maybe knocking a few points off the total.

My point was not that prescription drugs are a particularly large part of US healthcare costs. My point was that drugs are an example of an area of spending where both costs and spending can be lowered without reducing the level of care provided. (by the by, prescription drugs accounted for almost exactly 10% of total healthcare spending in the US in 2009 [pdf])

And in fact I'd argue that with the possible exception of end-of-life care, a universal system can provide virtually identical care to more people for less money by eliminating insurance company profits, lowering drug and device company profits, lowering specialist pay and hospital overhead, and eliminating a lot of administrative expenses.

All those oldsters--including Parkinsonian ones--meant that my salary was way lower than it would have been otherwise.

If we had a single-risk-pool universal plan then that problem would be neatly avoided. The amount you paid for insurance wouldn't vary with where you worked.

Anyway, to get away from the healthcare derail and come back to the topic of the post: I don't think "the kids will be all right." I strongly suspect that people graduating high school and college from 2007-whenever-the-economy-recovers will form a lost generation with severely hampered career prospects. I also think we will start to see a backlash against higher education. The only question is whether it will be generational (i.e. the children of current graduates) or more immediate (i.e. current generation's younger siblings).
posted by jedicus at 10:50 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


More than that, I was specifically focusing my argument on the whole "99%" phenomenon, which seems to suggest that if only the "top 1%" were somehow... less, we'd fix all our problems.

It would fix the problem. If the disparity were "somehow... less", there wouldn't be such regulatory capture causing the problem. Healthcare for example costs the USA more than it costs other countries with better heathcare, and there are many very different reasons for that, yet if you look at the big picture, most of those reasons were either caused by, or protected by vested interests having more influence here than they do elsewhere, and most of that influence is via money.

The more that income inequality gets out of control, the more entrenched and powerful the powerful become, and the more the game will be rigged to shift the national wealth into the hands of a few, leaving the nation increasingly gutted and indebted.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:00 AM on October 18, 2011


what they usually mean is "We need to maintain our current level of consumption while paying less for it." I don't think that's really possible.

I don't think you have any experience with this.

When I go to a doctor here in the USA, in addition to paying his salary, I have to pay the salaries of all his staff that are needed to handle the mountain of insurance company back-and-forth paperwork and negotiations.
In other countries, those staff are out in the workforce doing productive jobs that create wealth. Not parasitic unnecessary bullshit work, make necessary by a broken system.

When medicare buys drugs here in the USA, it is prohibited by law (written by phama companies) from negotiating on price, it must pay whatever the company feels like asking for.
In other countries, agencies like that use the free market to brutally pit pharma companies against each other, competiting to offer the best deal in order to win the sales.
The USA banned the free market in favor of corporate welfare for companies that don't need welfare, but they like free money and have the lobbyists and connections to get it.

These are just two examples out of a billion of how the USA throws away healthcare money, while other countries spend their money on actually buying some actual healthcare.

To suggest that it's not possible to provide the same level of healthcare for far far FAR less money than the USA spends on it, is ridiculous. To suggest that the USA refuses to get the same level of healthcare for far less money is, unfortunately, accurate.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:13 AM on October 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


(I've lived decades in countries other than the USA, lots of experience with healthcare, and a decade in the USA. From what I've seen, it absolutely blows my mind at how much so-called "healthcare" money is pissed away to profiteers and inefficiency rather than used to actually purchase healthcare. I cannot express how staggering broken the US system is. Another observation is that most Americans don't have enough long-term overseas experience to realise just how bad it really is in comparison)
posted by -harlequin- at 11:19 AM on October 18, 2011


Hmm, Sorry. I'm making assumptions bordering on ad-hominem, because I'm shocked at how things about US healthcare that seem so stark are apparently not as obvious as they seem to me.

I think I should go cool it.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:23 AM on October 18, 2011


A majority of Americans say, for the first time ever, that this generation will not be better off than its parents.

Generation X is sick of your bullshit.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:28 AM on October 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


correct me if i'm wrong but gen-x's gen-x wangst kind of evaporated with the tech boom? or am i wrong here?
posted by beefetish at 11:36 AM on October 18, 2011


everyone got a lot of money, then lost all their money and we all agreed to never talk about it again.
posted by The Whelk at 11:41 AM on October 18, 2011


didnt you guys get razor scooters? i read leisuretown, I KNOW WHATS UP
posted by beefetish at 11:43 AM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


We're gonna have to wait and see if any generation beyond the boomers can a) retire or b) count on medicare before we make the final determination, but as of right now, I'm entirely comfortable making the statement that my parents' generation had it better off than we do. Really the only place where we have them beat is we don't have to worry about the draft. Everything else tips in their favor.

Pornography.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:08 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


flyover country

BFE Indiana

not so cool.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:13 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think we get to call it flyover country if we live there, don't we?
posted by asperity at 12:41 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think we get to call it flyover country if we live there, don't we?

You can call it whatever you want, but 1) it's derogatory; 2) a lot of people will discount your opinion.

The author--who seemed to have a decent point that I didn't totally read because of the casual invective--made it pretty clear he or she wouldn't choose to live there if he or she had a choice and couldn't wait to get the fuck out.

BFE OK too?
posted by mrgrimm at 1:02 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't use BFE myself, but I think valkyryn's lived in Indiana longer than I have.

I do think it's (non-sarcastically) awesome that you're defending our state's honor from one of those places people actually fly to, though!
posted by asperity at 2:15 PM on October 18, 2011


I've lived in Indiana since 2006. Where's my $100?
posted by valkyryn at 2:29 PM on October 18, 2011


I do think it's (non-sarcastically) awesome that you're defending our state's honor from one of those places people actually fly to, though!

I grew up in Detroit and Louisville KY. I know Indiana. There are a lot of great people in the states in the middle.

I've lived in Indiana since 2006. Where's my $100?

I'm not sure I'd consider going to college as "living somewhere," but if you can provide me with notarized proof of your residential status for the past 3 years, I'll take it into consideration.

posted by mrgrimm at 2:31 PM on October 18, 2011


[Please do not bring personal info from elsewhere into the blue. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 2:35 PM on October 18, 2011


I dunno - there were the fair share of "useless" people in my peer cohort growing up and going through college with.

Now that I'm officially an "old fart," and seeing a lot of undegrads and younger graduate students... there seems to be a LOT more useless people; kids who have no idea what personal responsibility means, completely and totally self-possessed, have no idea how to problem solve and think that complaining and whinging is the way to make things better/work, rather than identifying problems, then proceeding to solve/work-around those problems.

I'm not saying *everyone* is, but so many more seem to be useless sacks who are convinced that they are invulnerable and special and that the world should spin around them, and that the problems will go away when they ask them to.

A member of the lab who started around the same time I did in '06 but was 22 (only 5 years younger than I) uttered to another member of the lab a couple/three years in (so, 25, 26), "Why isn't life fun and easy all the time?"

Completely without irony. Her complaint was something utterly and completely banal, like, our supervisor asked her what she managed to accomplish that week. She's still the same; expecting things to go her way; when they don't, she just ignores them. Like, a supervisor who is forced to micromanage her work - her response to underperforming? "Working from home" and being even more unproductive. Firing a grad student is awful for the supervisor's reputation and university guidelines makes it almost impossible to do, so letting her graduate is the easiest way for our supervisor to get rid of her.

This particular piece of human waste has always viewed her PhD candidacy like a part time job - my problem is that she's probably going to get her BS vanity PhD before I do*, on the strength of the rather-high-impact-project that a previous student developed and she was given. It should/could have been published a couple of years ago, but it didn't get the work put into it. We're lucky it hasn't been scooped yet - the anxiety that my supervisor gets from this gets transferred to me to get stuff out the door. She tried, a couple of years back, to ask for permission to write up a thesis on the data and ideas generated by a post-doc who she worked for who left academia and settled for a job in pharma. She was denied with prejudice, but I don't think she learned anything from that experience.

Yeah, the kids area going to be allright.

(*I hope "real life" eats her face off, but... I doubt it. The children of the rich and influentual aren't like you and me. The PhD part, maybe not so much, but our supervisor is sick of carrying her and the easiest way to get rid of her is to let her graduate.)

Sorry MetaFilter for ranting, but fucking hell, she makes me want to violate my non-violence code.

posted by porpoise at 8:45 PM on October 18, 2011


sticker on self:

DAMN VISAS

(they're making me unemployable for even the most entry-level of tasks)

though some of the complaints are making me (and many others) think "dude are you new? non-White Straight Western MiddleClass Males have been feeling this *forever*"
posted by divabat at 2:34 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now that I'm officially an "old fart," and seeing a lot of undegrads and younger graduate students... there seems to be a LOT more useless people

No offense, but that sounds a lot like projection.

This particular piece of human waste

Yeah. Take a deep breath.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:54 AM on October 19, 2011


If we had a single-risk-pool universal plan then that problem would be neatly avoided.

I doubt that. It's true that costs would be the same everywhere. It's also true that they'd be expensive. I already pay, what, 2.9% of my wages in Medicare? Which mostly covers people over 65. Explain to me how expanding the people who are eligible for Medicare without expanding the number of people who are paying for Medicare is supposed to make that cheaper. True, we wouldn't need private insurance anymore, but because there wouldn't be private insurers to pick up the slack for Medicare anymore, Medicare reimbursements would either have to go up, or Medicare benefits would have to go down. Either way, we're looking at radically expanding Medicare expenditures, so it seems somewhat unlikely that I'd wind up paying less than I am now.
posted by valkyryn at 3:15 AM on October 20, 2011


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