For many Millennials, the American dream isn’t living up to the sales pitch. If you were born in the 1950s, ’60s, or ’70s, you were very likely to grow up to make more money than your parents did. But research by the University of California shows that because of the increasing concentration of wealth at the top of the income scale, only half of those born in the 1980s now out-earn their parents. Young Americans have it tougher than their elders in other ways too. They have 300 percent more student loan debt on average than their parents, which—along with stagnant wages and rocketing house prices—explains why 20- and 30-somethings are about half as likely to own a home as young adults were in 1975. Short on cash, they’re delaying familiar rituals of adult life, getting married and having kids later than previous generations. Believing that modern capitalism has failed them, it’s perhaps unsurprising that a growing number of young Americans are turning to an ideology that has long been anathema in the U.S.: socialism.
Left-wing groups like the Democratic Socialists of America have seen their membership surge in recent years, with more and more young adults saying they want free college education and medical care, subsidized housing and child care. (See Briefing and Best Columns: The U.S.). Building a Scandinavian-style welfare state would be hugely expensive—and older Americans would have to foot most of the bill. Income taxes would need to rise, and since Baby Boomers and Gen Xers earn more on average than Millennials, they’d have to hand a bigger chunk of their paychecks to the IRS. Corporate taxes would also go up, putting a dent in retirees’ 401(k) plans. Since Boomers were born into an era of unprecedented economic opportunity, and racked up a heap of federal debt that their kids and grandkids will have to pay, angry Millennials might argue that such sacrifices are only fair. Get ready for a battle of the ages.