“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.” — Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley
Sen. Grassley has been been an elected official since he was 26 years old. He has likely never done any back-breaking menial labor for any significant length of time in his life. His political career started in the Iowa House of Representatives in 1959. He moved onto the U.S. House of Representatives in 1975, and to his current Senate seat in 1981. He has no idea what it is like to be an average citizen. I am not one who normally supports term limits, but Sen. Grassley is the poster child for why they are needed.
My dad was a World War II Navy veteran. When the war ended he worked on the family farm for a bit, then moved to Madison, Wisconsin. His first job was in inedibles at Oscar Mayer (yes, that is as bad as it sounds). He then went on to drive truck for Bancroft Dairy, and later when the distributorship was sold, for Dane County Dairy. He was a member of Teamsters local 695, and was forced into retirement when his boss busted the union. My dad worked his ass off his entire life. In the end, he had a pension, a small IRA, and Social Security. When he passed, what little was left went to support my mom. When my mom passed after a lengthy nursing home stay due to dementia, the inheritance left to me and my siblings was two cemetery plots and some furniture.
Did my dad spend money on booze? Yep. Was money spent on movies? Yep. Did my dad blow money on women? Well, he was married to my mom for 51 years and often splurged with a fancy dinner and a gift for their wedding anniversary every year, so I guess he did.
I am 50 years old, and I have pissed my money away on a college education, child care, transportation, health care, housing, and food.
I don’t have a lot left over at the end of the month, just enough that I can take a vacation once and while. Do I blow my money on booze? I am from Wisconsin, and we have been known to imbibe now and again. Do I blow money on women? We do go out to eat now and again, so if buying a pizza is blowing money, I guess I do. Do I blow money on movies? You bet. Anything to escape the harsh reality of this world, if only for a couple of hours.
Because of policies enacted by Sen. Grassley and the Republican Party, Americans have seen wages that have been stagnant since the mid-1970s, even though productivity has increased. Adjusted for inflation, I earn the same amount of money that my dad did in the 1980s. Yet I have less money to spend as health care and other costs have gone up, but my wages have not kept pace.
Add in the financial crisis, and you have a recipe for disaster. The Great Recession hit me at the worst possible time, right in the middle of a divorce. What retirement savings I had were just about wiped out by the financial crisis, and what was left was lost in the divorce. After that, as a single father it was survival mode. But according to Grassley, I have pissed my money away because I did not invest it. I guess I should have been buying stock in GM instead of blowing it on Ramen Noodles when I first got divorced.
This story is not unique to me or anyone else in my generation.
If our childhood in the late ’70s and early ’80s was a time of massive changes—the first generation of latchkey kids, high crime rates in the headlines, missing children’s pictures on milk cartons, the AIDS epidemic beginning—our transition to adulthood was equally rocky. Many of us started our job hunts in the early ’90s recession, which was followed by a “jobless recovery.” If you were born later into Generation X, you might have entered the workforce around the 1999-ish stock market peak, but the tech bubble started to burst, landing us in the 2001 recession.
When it came time for many of us to start thinking about buying a house or a car, we slammed into the Great Recession, the worst economic crisis since the Depression, which hit Generation X hardest: According to a Pew Charitable Trust report we lost almost half our wealth, compared with around a quarter for boomers. Gen X went from the most successful generation in terms of home ownership in 2004 to the least successful in 2015.
For those of us in Generation X, we cannot get ahead. We are supposed to be in the peak earning years of our lives right now—but Baby Boomers are not retiring, thus not freeing up jobs that pay more. In fact:
Gallup has found that 74 percent of adults now plan to work past retirement age — 63 percent part time and 11 percent full time. In contrast, in 1995, only 14 percent said they’d work after 65.
I wish I could say it’s only Sen. Grassley that is out of touch with the average American, but it’s not just him. It is the entire Republican Party and, sadly, the average American. It seems that the people who have bought into this faulty line of reasoning are the very ones that will never benefit from it. Most Americans will never be rich or become millionaires. But we hear story after story of people going from rags to riches, the Horatio Alger myth that through hard work and perseverance we will all make it big someday.
The truth is that no matter how hard you work, you will likely never become rich. Sen. Grassley seems to think it is all hookers and blow for us out here, that we are just pissing our money away on trivial items. Nothing could be further from the truth.