by Frank Schnittger
Tue May 11th, 2021 at 10:10:53 AM EST
Letter published by the Irish Times today under the heading:
Older people have never had it so good
A chara, – Several of your esteemed commentators have written letters bemoaning ageism and their perceived victimisation by society at large, and yet many older people have never had it so good.
Ireland's life expectancy continues to increase, and older people are consuming an increasing proportion of Ireland's ballooning health expenditure.
Older people have been favoured by earlier access to vaccines despite many younger frontline workers being more exposed to potential infection.
Unemployment is hugely skewed against younger people in our society, with 59% of people aged 15-24 currently unemployed.
Wealth inequality has never been higher in Ireland with most of the wealth owned by older people, while the current generation of younger people may be the first in living memory to be poorer than their parents.
Many older people were given council houses at low rents which they were later able to buy at knockdown prices and sell on at market prices, making huge profits and increasing the cost of housing for younger people generally.
Many older people were able to live quite well on one salary coming into their household while today’s young married couples need two salaries coming in to pay the rent.
They cannot afford to buy a house until much later in life and having children often has to be postponed until their late thirties to ensure that some semblance of financial stability has been achieved.
With both parents having to work, today’s parents of younger children are also faced with crippling childcare costs, longer commutes, and a “free” education system that is anything but free.
Many older people had secure jobs for life while today’s young are increasingly employed in the precarious gig economy where there is no certainty of income and where obtaining a mortgage is almost impossible. Many older people saw the size of their mortgage eroded by inflation and paid off within 25 years whereas today’s young are paying some of the highest interest rates in Europe on mortgages often lasting over 30 years.
An Inter or Leaving Certificate was all many older people needed to land well-paying jobs, whereas today’s young often require a degree, sometimes a postgraduate degree, and many with doctorates are living in relative poverty with no prospect of secure well-paid employment until well into their thirties.
Older people today can take advantage of free travel on public transport and much reduced prices for travelling to exotic holiday destinations abroad in off-peak periods, whereas younger parents are confined to expensive peak holiday prices during school holidays.
I’m not suggesting that everything in the garden is rosy for older people, but I do feel a little more appreciation for how hard today’s young have to work to achieve a foothold on the housing ladder and raise a family might be in order.
Younger people are being failed by our political system, controlled largely by their elders, and then people wonder why political extremism is on the rise.
– Is mise,
Two letters mildly critical of my letter where then published by the Irish Times in response:
Sir, – Frank Schnittger engages in comparisons between the generations (“Older people have never had it so good”, Letters, May 12th).
You could be forgiven for thinking that older people suddenly appeared, were never born, never worked or lived through wars, recessions, pandemics and losses of loved ones and were now taking and enjoying the spoils at the expense of all of society.
We are all cut from the same cloth and it is only time that separates us in our journey. We young and not so young can complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Embracing this will bring happiness and fulfilment to all. Older people’s most cherished gift is the legacy of family of all ages. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Frank Schnittger omitted a new element in older people’s lives, which is the increasing importance of “The Bank of Mom and Pop”. While many adult children are reluctant to draw down from this bank, the fact that they are aware that they can do so goes a long way to ease the stress of modern living – and most older folks who can afford to do so are happy to oblige if the need arises. – Yours, etc,
Following my request for a right of reply, the Irish Times also published my rejoinder
Comparisons between the generations
A chara, – I am indebted to your correspondent Aidan Roddy (Letters, May 13th) for reminding me that we are all cut from the same cloth.
The point of my letter was that there is more than time which separates us on our journey. Comparative wealth, employment security, opportunities at a younger age, the availability of public and affordable housing, childcare costs, and the opportunity to be a full-time parent have all changed to the detriment of the younger generation. I’m not saying that older people didn’t have their own challenges on their journey through life; merely that the nature of those challenges has changed for the younger generation of today. If we could provide affordable public housing for those who needed it back in the 1950s, how come we can’t do so now when our economy is over 100 times bigger, as measured by GDP, than it was then?
It is a matter of priorities, and we have chosen, via our political system, to make life very difficult indeed for our younger generation. Forcing them to remain living at home until well into their thirties or relying on the “Bank of Mom and Dad” (Anthony O’Leary, Letters, May 13th) merely infantilises them and does us no credit. It also further disadvantages those whose “Mom and Dad” have no bank. – Is mise,
Hopefully the exchange will have started a conversation about just how disgraceful the government's failure to provide substantial public housing is in the context of our growing wealth. The attempt by some to minimise or disparage the comparison of the wealth and public goods available to succeeding generations should be challenged. The growing inequality in our society is becoming so glaring we should not countenance it's dismissal by the privileged few who are over-represented in our public discourse.