Former Vice President Joe Biden’s 2020 strategy to attract young voters seems to be blaming them for the grim future created by his generation.
Roughly a month ago, Biden said he “may very well” run against President Trump in 2020. And depending on who you ask, either Biden or Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) is the favorite among Democratic primary voters to win the party’s nomination. And because millennials will represent roughly 40 percent of eligible voters in 2020, they will be a critical voting bloc for any candidate hoping to have any modicum of success.
This is what makes Biden’s recent statement in an interview with the Los Angeles Times’ Patt Morrison so baffling. Without being prompted by Morrison, Biden launched into a tirade about how the millennial generation (anyone born between the early 1980s to the mid 1990s) has it way easier than he did:
“The younger generation now tells me how tough things are,” Biden said, after reminiscing about the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War. “Give me a break. I have no empathy for them.”
“We decided we were going to change the world and we did,” Biden continued, patronizing the generation that birthed Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and the modern Antifa movement. “Get involved. There’s no place to hide.”
Joe Biden is oblivious to the student debt crisis
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), annual tuition at the University of Delaware — the public institution where Biden got his undergrad degree — was likely somewhere in the neighborhood of $243 in today’s dollars in 1965, when Biden graduated. That same year, total tuition, room, and board at the average public university amounted to a mere $950 in today’s dollars. To compare, the NCES found that annual undergraduate tuition, room, and board at public universities in the 2014-2015 academic year cost an average of $16,188. This means college for early baby boomers like Joe Biden cost roughly 94 percent less than it does for millennials.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: While GritPost was unable to find historical University of Delaware tuition rates dating back to 1965 while conducting online research, the particular set of NCES data cited in this article represents the average cost of four-year university tuition, room, and board for all institutions of higher learning, both public and private, dating back to the 1964-1965 academic year. It’s possible that UD charged slightly more or slightly less, and this article will be amended in the event that specific UD data from 1965 is discovered.)
It’s worth noting that back when Biden attended college, state governments invested far more in higher education than they did after the Great Recession of the late aughts and early ’10s, when most millennials with college degrees graduated. A 2013 report from collegeboard.org showed that today’s students have taken on at least 300 percent more debt than their parents. And according to a 2014 report by the Center for American Progress, a majority of state governments significantly slashed per-student investment between fiscal years 2008 and 2012. Three-fourths of all state governments cut funding per student by anywhere from five percent to more than 20 percent.
29 of 50 state governments decreased their total level of direct support to public institutions between fiscal years 2008 and 2012 after adjusting for inflation in constant 2012 dollars… These cuts were more pronounced when measured on a per-student basis, with 44 of 50 state governments decreasing their direct support of public colleges between FY 2008 and FY 2012.
Joe Biden is clueless about the housing crisis
Similarly, baby boomers like Joe Biden had a much easier time buying a home in their early adulthood than millennials do today. In 1970, the average cost of a home in the Northeast, according to U.S. Census data, was roughly $32,800 ($210,717 in today’s dollars). In 2016, the average cost of a home in the Northeast was $532,700. This means that in early adulthood, someone Biden’s age paid roughly 60 percent less for a home compared to what millennials would have to pay today.
Aside from cheaper homeownership, baby boomers also enjoyed cheaper rents. In studying U.S. Census Bureau data, apartmentlist.com discovered that the percentage of cost-burdened renters — defined by those paying 30 percent or more of their monthly income on rent — more than doubled from 24 percent of renters in 1960 to 49 percent of renters in 2014. Median rents also increased significantly, as tenants paid just $568 a month in 1960 (adjusted to 2014 dollars) compared to $934 a month in 2014. This means rent was approximately 40 percent cheaper for boomers.
Joe Biden has no concept of the low wage crisis
When Joe Biden was coming of age, workers’ wages were much higher than they are today. Accounting for inflation, the federal minimum wage in 1968, when Biden graduated law school, amounts to $10.90 an hour in 2015 dollars. But in 2015, the federal minimum wage was the same $7.25 an hour it is today, meaning the minimum wage of Biden’s generation had 33 percent more buying power. While a baby boomer would only have to work 306 hours at a minimum wage job to pay for four years of public college, a millennial would have to work 4,459 hours.
This decline in wages is likely due to the decline in influence workers have had in negotiating wages and benefits due to declining union membership rates. Before the right-wing war on organized labor began under Ronald Reagan’s administration, American union membership was at 28.3 percent in 1968. That year, the middle 60 percent of households took home 53.2 percent of all national income. However, by 2012, union membership fell to just 11.3 percent of households, with the middle class taking in just 45.7 percent of national income.
And of course, during Biden’s early adult years, tax rates for the wealthy were much higher than they are today, meaning the government had far more resources to invest in jobs, education, healthcare, and infrastructure. In 1968, the top marginal income tax rate paid by the wealthiest Americans was 75.25 percent, according to IRS data. Following the Republican tax cut package of 1986 (which then-Senator Biden voted for), the top tax rate was eventually cut to 28 percent by the end of Reagan’s second term.
Joe Biden has no idea how long millennials will have to wait to retire
As Huffpost pointed out in this exhaustive investigation by Michael Hobbes, 1 in 5 millennials today are living in poverty, young adults today are half as likely to own homes as their peers were in 1975, and most millennials likely won’t be able to retire until age 75. And for those lucky enough to have 401(k) retirement plans, millennials will only see a 2.9 percent average annual stock market return, whereas boomers enjoyed an average 6.3 percent annual return.
“According to an analysis by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a drop in stock market returns of just 2 percentage points means a 25-year-old would have to contribute more than double the amount to her retirement savings that a boomer did. Oh, and she’ll have to do it on lower wages,” Hobbes wrote. “This scenario gets even more dire when you consider what’s going to happen to Social Security by the time we make it to 65… In 1950, there were 17 American workers to support each retiree. When millennials retire, there will be just two.”
Joe Biden’s early adulthood was a cakewalk compared to the harsh reality most millennials face today. If he wants the millennial vote in 2020, the best thing he could do is shut his mouth and learn about the economy today’s young adults inherited from the poor choices made by his generation.
Carl Gibson is co-publisher of Grit Post. His work has previously appeared in The Guardian, Al Jazeera-America, NPR, The Washington Post, and others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or email him at carl AT gritpost DOT com.