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McAbee: A generation left behind

Jeff McAbee

In 1972, my parents bought their first house. My father, not long home from two tours in Vietnam, worked at the General Tire plant on the production floor at an entry-level job. He made $2.25 an hour, $4,680 a year.

He had a wife, a 2-year-old son and a desire to put a roof over our heads. He wanted to give us a yard. They paid $19,000 for that house – or roughly four times his annual salary. At that point, my mother didn’t have to work. She stayed home with my sister and I while we were little.

In practical terms, a home’s value hasn’t changed much since then. A three-bedroom house is still a place to put your furniture, and it sleeps about four people. In fact, I’d argue that starter homes built today are inferior to some of our older homes in that we use shoddy products and build in less-desirable locations. Our older forests have been cut down, brick and stone have been replaced by stucco, and the choice sites were used first.

Nowadays, a young man just starting out, if he’s very fortunate, might make $25,000 a year. To be on a level playing field with my father, he’d have to be able to purchase a home for $100,000. What kind of home can you buy for that? Ours was a new home in a decent neighborhood.

Ideally, we like to leave the world a better place for our children. The Greatest Generation won a couple of world wars and set up an unprecedented era of prosperity. They left this capital for the baby boomers to steward and keep, which they did, all to themselves. They spent it all and then went in debt to spend some more.

The generation that followed decided to pay no mind and say “whatever, we’ll go to college but we’re not going to go out afterward and get a job that chains us to a desk.” Instead we traveled the world, skied, mountain biked and did the things we loved to do while we were young enough to do them. We left our college degrees sitting in a storage unit in Boulder or Fort Collins. Our parents, the baby boomers, shook their head in disbelief and nodded in amazement at our photos from Patagonia, Thailand or wherever.

Our lack of desire to pick up where they left off confounded the baby boomers. To prove it, the generations to follow were labeled not some cute and endearing name but as the unknown variables, “X” and “Y.”

According to recent news reports, house prices, particularly in ski country, are “plummeting.” And plummet they should until a young father starting out can buy a home without having to spend 60 percent of his income on his house.

He and his wife shouldn’t both have to work 50 to 75 hours a week just to pay their mortgage. They ought to have time to spend with one another and their children so they can teach them in the way they should live.

They shouldn’t have to use a credit card to buy their groceries. This is the myopic vision of banks and lenders, not of people interested in the long-term financial well-being of our state and country.

Oh sure, baby boomers can boast about technological advances, but a smart phone doesn’t keep rain off your head. They are also the generation that brought us The Beatles and Bob Dylan, but then they use the lyrics that represent the ideals of that time in a television commercial in order to sell us something else we can’t afford.

They gave us Woodstock but then we’re as divided as we’ve ever been on just about every issue. Where’s the peace? Where’s the love?

Sadly, people are losing money as house prices fall, and not all of them are guilty of greed or are rich second-home owners. It hurts a little bit, I’m sure. But a young couple just starting out deserves at least as good a chance as their parents had.

Jeff McAbee lives in Breckenridge. He’s a campus supervisor at Summit High School. Contact him at jjmcabee@yahoo.com or via Twitter @Jeff_McAbee.


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