NEW YORK (AP) -- Wherever they go, the baby boom bunch creates a stir, demographically, economically, sociologically, legislatively, recreationally -- well, you get the idea.
They've pumped car and home sales to levels not seen before and probably not imagined either, bought stocks in quantities like no other generation, saved less, spent more, been educated well.
They've lived through the highest interest rates this century, the lowest jobless rates, some of the worst recessions, double-digit inflation, the longest expansion and the most volatile stock market.
All this they put up with or enjoyed, but this isn't to say they were passive participants. For better or worse, their behavior and sheer numbers were involved, for better or worse, in all events.
Ask Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan about their exuberant buying of stocks, their insatiable urge to spend, their role in making the savings rate disappear below zero, their huge contribution to the economic boom, and their technological genius.
There are now more than 81 million men and women between the ages of 36 and 54, some 30 percent of a 275 million population. And older ones are just a decade from the traditional retirement age.
This much we know for sure: Most will grow older. And so there is no choice but to plan now for the big demographic event of the century's first decade: the retirement of the baby boomers.
Those concerns, perhaps not so overtly identified, were imbedded in proposals and promises heard at the political conventions this summer, and they'll be inherent in debates over the next two months.
They could even determine the next president.
Such considerations already are consuming much of the time of corporate planners, actuaries, financial planners, retailers, homebuilders, carmakers, city and urban planners, universities, etc.
Republican legislators seek to repeal inheritance taxes and cut those on Social Security benefits.
President Clinton promises to veto such measures, arguing that surplus funds are needed for, among other things, health care. In that regard, the future is now.
Since the baby boomers will be getting older, living longer and working less, health-care expenditures almost inevitably must rise.
Adding to the difficulty, the money to finance such spending may have to come from a shrinking percentage of the population at work.
The broad debate in Congress, intense and important as will be, won't occur in isolation, but only as an aspect of a much larger issue, that being the role of government vs. the private sector.
In brief, should government provide the answer through taxation, which many liberals believe is the safest, surest, fairest way? Or from an enterprising, growing private sector energized by low taxes?
Some elements in the debate can't even be foreseen.
Some retirees, for instance, will be well off from pensions, capital gains (stocks and houses) and inheritances from earlier retirees.
Question: What will hard-working young men and women with families and big expenses think about being taxed to support such members of an aged population? Could views divide the nation?
The election isn't just about the economy over the next four years, which based on the powerful momentum might take care of themselves. More like the next 30 or 40.
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