A Worst Past, a Better Future

Thank goodness for our poorer forebears. Amid the current economic gloom, their comparative poverty is a bright spot for us. In a New York Times/CBS News poll, few people said they’re faring worse than their parents did. Asked how their own standard of living compares to that of their parents at the same age, 32 percent said it’s “much better” and 30 percent said “somewhat better.” Twelve percent said their own living standard is “somewhat worse,” and 5 percent rated it “much worse.” Most of the rest said it’s about the same as their parents’.

People returned to pessimistic form when asked how the future will be for “the next generation of Americans.” While 33 percent said life “will be better” for them, 34 percent said it’ll be worse. (Most of the rest said it’ll be the same.)

However, people who’ve actually produced the next generation of Americans see the matter differently. When parents were asked to say how their children’s standard of living will compare with their own when the kids reach the parents’ current age, 19 percent said it’ll be “much better” and 27 percent said “somewhat better.” Many fewer said it’ll be “somewhat worse” (19 percent) or “much worse” (9 percent). We can surmise that people are less inclined to wallow in gloom when the issue isn’t merely abstract.