OPED: Why boomers should vote like their kids

Steve Palumbi and Mary Roberts
Los Angeles Times
FILE - In this March 18, 2014 file photo, voters cast their ballots in Hinsdale, Ill. A new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MTV finds that most Americans ages 15 to 34 think voting in the midterm elections gives their generation some say about how the government runs, and 79 percent of this group say leaders from their generation would do a better job running the country. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

Our friends and peers are asking more and more about our retirement plans, probably because they are thinking about retirement themselves. And although we all may be thinking about it, we find ourselves reluctant to give up our career lifelines.

But if our generation is wary, what are our kids thinking? Many of us have health care plans, pensions, savings, Social Security and Medicare. Our kids are likely to have none of that.

When we were growing up, there were new highways being built, bridges erected, mass transit created and water treatment systems invented. Our kids have seen little in the way of public works improvement.

Instead, their future is overshadowed with serious problems: low wage growth, climate change, the collapse of basic healthcare and a rollback of reproductive health services.

The federal government’s ability to address these problems is increasingly hogtied by national debt: $21 trillion at present, or about $1 million for every high school student in the country.

Our kids live in a different society than our generation does, and it’s a crueler and more precarious one. This makes us mad and sad in equal measure. And it means voters our age need to change how we do things at the voting booth.

Younger generations were adamant in 2016 that Bernie Sanders was the beginning of an answer. They saw in him, if not a savior, the only national politician willing to acknowledge their predicament.

We worked our way up through companies for decades. Not them. Jobs today are increasingly specialized, and career advancement is attained by quitting and moving to a new company.

We got health insurance through our long-term employers. Now that employers have little loyalty to employees, our kids need healthcare that doesn’t hinge on a job.

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How many of us got a college education and launched into life nearly debt-free? Not them. They will be saddled with student debt the magnitude of which was unheard of in our day.

How many of us bought starter homes in new neighborhoods with good public schools? Not them. In the few cities with good tech jobs, even starter apartments are virtually out of reach.

There are solutions to these problems. Nearly every advanced society in the world is doing a better job of finding them than we are. In America, clearly, fixes are not going to come from our senior political leaders, big companies or the clergy.

Rather, solutions are bubbling up from a new crop of politicians who are willing to face the world our kids live in, because they themselves live in the same world. This diverse set talks of investing in healthcare for all, education for all, infrastructure for the future and jobs that value workers.

The main reason we recognize the potential in these candidates is because our kids know about them, and tell us. Their solutions may not seem perfect, or perfectly practical, to our generation. But at least these hopefuls are grappling directly with the intractable problems our kids will need to solve.

Some of these candidates are on the national radar. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in New York, who defeated Rep. Joseph Crowley in the Democratic race for the House. Beto O’Rourke, the 45-year-old congressman from El Paso who is closing in on Ted Cruz’s Senate seat.

But the few who have attracted headlines are not alone. A whole wave of younger, bolder, more diverse candidates is emerging. They are running for school board seats, county administrators, state representatives. With our help, this new wave could crest.

In the next few weeks, we ought to listen to our kids. Ask them whom to vote for and why. Perhaps we won’t agree with their choices, but we ought to believe in them enough to vote their way anyway.

The middle of this century will be theirs to navigate. They need and deserve the power to begin forging a path through it. We can give them a boost.

For the first time in our country’s history, the next generation will be worse off than our own. Our kids are wise enough to see their crumbling future and inspired enough not to despair in the face of it. Why not prioritize their needs in the midterm election.

Signs in our neighborhood read, “Drive like your kids live here.” In that spirit, this November, vote like your kids live here. Because they do.

— Steve Palumbi and Mary Roberts live in Pacific Grove, Calif.