September 9, 2009

It Shouldn’t Be Fighting Boomer Fest, Anymore Than It Oughta Be Fighting X, Y or Millennial Fest

Fighting Bob Fest is this weekend, but some are joking that when it comes to the speaking program, Generations X, Y and the Millennials are expected to be like Buster Bluth at the Milford Academy: Neither seen nor heard.

A quick glance of the lengthy speaking program shows what looks like only one speaker under the age of 40.

One Wisconsin Now bought a table, so we’ll be there to join with our friends in the progressive community and we hope you will come by again and take our annual survey to help set One Wisconsin Now’s agenda for the year.

But with all due, how can a credible discussion be had about the progressive movement and the challenges facing those of us born after 1964 if one generation dominates the dais?

For instance: Who will be talking about the crisis with higher education and the future financial impact of the nearly-criminal student loan system?

Through depressing of the buying power of the minimum wage and by the ungodly explosion of tuition costs, university and technical college students become virtual indentured servants to a late 20th century economic epidemic: 20- and 30-year student loans simply to get an education. Banks made more money available, so universities and colleges jacked up tuition while state governments got more comfortable with letting students pick up more and more of the tab that used to be the shared responsibility of the public.

Appallingly, Republicans and Democrats in Congress joined hands in a bipartisan way to put banks and lenders ahead of students — whether it’s preventing students from reconsolidating student loans when interest rates go down or making student loans virtually the only thing that doesn’t disappear if you declare bankruptcy. Basically, it’s predatory lending and an absence of consumer protections for student borrowers.

It used to be that buying a home was what made you middle class. Now graduates end up paying off obscene student loans instead of using their new income to purchase their first homes. Instead of being done with our mortgages at age 55, many in Gen X, Y and the Millennials are going to be stuck paying them off until well into our 60s and beyond.

No doubt, refinancing and other issues have also left many Boomers with onerous mortgage payments that they continue to pay into their 60s, but with the current student loan system, Generation X, Y and the Millennials are seeing a future with no chance to avoid that.

Perhaps this can be the last Fighting Bob Fest that has such a stark absence of generation representation. There’s a whole year to search the progressive ranks for leaders.

And to Generation X, Y and the Millennials, it’s not up to the Boomers to throw up their hands and walk away — it’s up to us to join in, respect the fights of the past, but firmly accept our seats (note: plural) at the table of leadership.

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Scot Ross served as Executive Director of One Wisconsin Now & the Institute from 2007 to 2019.

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