My wife and I went on a road trip recently on Route 66. This highway, which has been decommissioned is referred to by a number of names. Two that I think are the most appropriate are:
The Mother Road, and
The Main Street of America.
It starts in Chicago and ends in Santa Monica. We flew down to Los Angeles so we could start in Santa Monica and head east. We covered about a third of the highway, all the way to Albuquerque, where we turned in our rental car and flew home. We plan on doing the rest later, but may start at Chicago next time and head west.
The entire road no longer exists, (only about 85% is still intact) so at certain points you end up going on I-40 until you can get back on the next part of Route 66. In some areas Route 66 just goes parallel to I-40, so you don't see anything you couldn't see from the Interstate, you're just on a slower, older road. But a lot of the old road takes you away
from I-40 and through mainstream, old America. Small Mom and Pop diners, independent gas stations, the kind that used to be known as "service stations", old stores, small motels, etc. You go through some of the oldest neighborhoods in our country. The way America used to look before national franchises and uniformity took over. Route 66 reigned supreme before the federal interstate highway system was built.
A lot of people drove Route 66, as it was the main highway going west back in the day. People my age recall a TV series, entitled Route 66, about a couple of guys traveling the highway, working part time jobs and finding adventure on the way. Later there was a movie and of course the song, Get Your Kicks on Route 66:
If you ever plan to motor west, Travel my way, take the highway that is best. Get your kicks on Route Sixty-Six.
It winds from Chicago to LA, More than two thousand miles all the way. Get your kicks on Route Sixty-Six.
There are more verses but I think you get the idea.
The Grapes of Wrath describes one family that used Route 66 to head west to escape the Dust Bowl. In fact Route 66 was the main escape route for the "Okies" and others seeking a better life. My family was part of the "Okies" that traveled Route 66 in this mass migration, but my family turned north and kept going until they got to Washington.
For these people Route 66 represented hope, a path to escape the ecological and financial disaster of the Dust Bowl, something they had no control over. And in this sense, the road represented all of America. America has always been a desirable destination, where migrants and refugees could seek a better life. America promised equality and freedom. A chance to improve your situation. A chance to not only have a good life, but a chance to have a BETTER life.
Don't like your current station in life? Want to do better than your parents? Would you like to go further? Stand taller? Be more educated? Be richer? Buy a bigger house? In America you can do it! Buckle on your big person pants and go to work. Save your money. Study hard. Make wise choices. In America, the sky's the limit.
This is the promise of America and this was the promise of Route 66. The road to success for those willing to work hard.
Route 66 delivered on the promise. There were some bumps on the way. But in the end, those Okies did well in California and Washington and the other places they ended up.
America has delivered on the promise as well. America is the Land of Prosperity for those willing to work hard. Each generation has done better, has gone further than the generation before. I'm a Baby Boomer, (Boomers were born from 1946 to 1964) and as I learned in school, we were healthier than our parents, we got a better education, and ended up with more material success than our parents. We were also taught that our parents, also, had done better, in every measurable way than their parents.
That was the way it was in America. You worked hard, but you also stood on the shoulders of those who went before you, your parents and grandparents. So give some credit to your parents, and to America that provides this type of opportunity, but also be prepared to work hard, and then you will be even more successful than your parents.
And sure enough, it worked for us Boomers. As a generation, putting aside individual exceptions, we exceeded our parents generation in every measurable, positive metric. Literally taller, more educated, richer, healthier. Everything you could ask for.
I thought this was just the natural order of things in a free society.
But not so for the generations that came after us, our children and our grandchildren. Now the course of society has changed. The tide is not rising for the younger generations. The Gen Xers and Millennials are doing worse than the Baby Boomers in every important way that we can measure. (Gen Xers were born from 1965 through 1980 and Gen Y, also known as Millennials were born from 1981 through 1996.)
FINANCES. Looking at this 2019 chart, you can see Baby Boomers controlled 21% of the
national wealth when they were 35 years old. The Gen- Xers are way behind the Boomers and the Millennials are even further behind them. Remember, this chart compares all 3 generations at 35 years of age. Unless they do an awful lot of catching up, Gen X and the Millennials will not achieve the financial success of the Boomers. Student debt is also much greater among these younger people, than it was for the Boomers, and the Xers and Millennials are buying homes at a slower rate than the Boomers did at their age. The Gen Xers and Millennials have more debt, less assets and less wealth than the Boomers did at the same age.
PHYSICAL HEALTH. A study published in March in The American Journal of Epidemiology, done at Ohio State University looked at over 650,000 people, and found that Gen Xers and Gen Y (Millennials) showed poorer physical health, higher levels of unhealthy behaviors such as alcohol use and smoking, and more depression and anxiety, when compared to the Baby Boomers at the same age. The researchers stated:
“The worsening health profiles we found in Gen X and Gen Y is alarming,”
and stated it will lead to higher disease levels than we have experienced in the past.
A 2020 study of 135,000 people found that:
"People in their 40s and 50s are in worse physical shape
than people in their 60s and early 70s were at the same age."
The researchers described these findings as "alarming" with serious, worrisome implications for future health delivery services. A Blue Cross study found an increased death rate for Gen Xers, compared to Boomers, and predicted the Millennials death rate would be 40% higher than the Gen Xers.
MENTAL HEALTH. Suicide is hard to report on accurately, because it tends to be underreported due to stigma. But we do know that suicide in general is at all time highs, for all age groups. However, a recent 2019 report from Vanderbilt University tried to look at this by generation and concluded that indicators of despair including:
"depression, suicidal ideation, drug use and alcohol abuse -- are rising among Americans in their late 30s and early 40s"
and concluded that - "deaths of despair" (suicide, drug overdose, alcohol poisoning) may impact Generation X more broadly in the years to come, than any previous generation.
The Blue Cross Blue Shield's Health Index found that major-depression diagnoses were rising at a faster rate for millennials and teens than they were for any other age group. According to the Trust for America's Health and Well Being report, the affordability crisis has become so bad that some Millennials can't afford treatment. One in five Millennials diagnosed with major depression doesn't seek treatment, and it's likely because they can't afford to do so.
So there you have it. Finances, physical and mental health are all going down hill for the younger generations. The Baby Boomers represent the last generation to receive America's promise, of doing better than their parents.
Of course some Gen Xers and Millennials are doing better than their Boomer parents, but they are the MINORITY. With the Boomers, the MAJORITY did better than their parents. These types of discussions are always based on averages and individuals can always follow their own path. If you are a Gen Xer or Millennial, I hope you are part of the minority that is doing better, and I hope you are receiving the great American promise. Your existence and success tells us that the path to the American Dream is still there. Why aren't more of the rising generation on that path with you?
Has the road to success become too crowded? Is there just not enough room to accommodate everybody? Does America no longer have the resources to fulfill its promise to all? Are we rationing supplies now?
Or have the younger folks just gotten off the path? Are they no longer willing to do the hard work, that has always been part of the deal? Are they just too lazy to do their part? Or perhaps they just don't need the success their parents achieved, to be happy? Perhaps other things are more important than pursuing material success and personal health? Maybe money and health are just over-rated?
Is it possible the younger generations just don't understand, maybe haven't been taught, the path to success? Maybe they're willing and able to work hard, but just don't know the correct path anymore? Did our generation take our success for granted and fail to pass on the correct knowledge?
I don't have the answers to these questions, but I believe society needs answers and fast. If you have answers to these questions, I would love to hear from you. What I do know is that America has peaked, and is now in decline. Can we turn it around?
Questions for Gen Xers/Millennials:
Do you agree that the majority of your generation is not doing as well as their parents did at the same age?
Are you personally doing better than, equal to, or worse, than your parents?
For members of your generation that aren't doing at least as well as their parents, is it due to their own choices or to factors beyond their control?
Please answer in the comments below.