The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Mar 012010

This short article from the Slate (courtesy of David Kaiser) asks whether Unions are on their way out. The two-tiering of wages in union shops, old versus young, started in the mid-1980s just as Generation X (born 1961-1981) were entering the workforce. The young Xers were the first to get lower wages/benefits for doing the same job just because they weren’t “grandfathered” into the contract. It makes sense for the older people because, by letting the employer pay the young less, they let the employer remain competitive (say with a Japanese auto maker) while still protecting their own windfall (an economist would say “rent”). Better still, with each passing year the deal improves because the cost of your grandfathered cohorts diminish with time relative to the total wage bill. By the time you retire, you can even ask for “Cadillac” health benefits that are totally off the radar screen of what younger workers could ever imagine. Boomer (born 1943-1960)motto: Apres moi le deluge.

I’m not surprised talk of two-tiering is still going on. But now it doesn’t matter as much because the unionized share of the private workforce has shrunk so much. Last month, in fact, the number of private-sector union workers fell below the number of public-sector union workers for the first time ever.

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  • So, does this mean that Barry Soetoro aka Barak Obama is our first Gen-X president? I'm surprised (based on your writings and the general selfishness of the boomer generation) that they would elect a Gen-X president at this time. Your thoughts?

    • dsohigian

      @Eric, I agree that it is somewhat surprising that we elected a “Nomad” at the start of a crisis. The only other precedent for this was George Washington (also a Nomad) at the start of the Revolutionary crisis. Both the 4th Turnings of the Civil War and WWII saw Prophets in charge (Lincoln and FDR respectively).

  • So…with Barry Soetoro aka Barak Obama being born in 1961, does that mean we have our first Gen-X president? I’m surprised that the Boomer generation would elect a Gen-X president… your thoughts?

  • mertyme

    So, is it certain that Obama is a Nomad / Gen-X ? I was discussing this with my wife, and she brought up an interesting point: all we know about Obama is what he has written himself, which might include his birth certificate (indirectly, of course.) He may not actually be a Gen-Xer for all we know. Interesting.

    But..I'm still puzzled. When GW was chosen, it wasn't a disproportionately large population of Prophet generation doing the choosing. Maybe the Boomer generation isn't as self-serving as people have written if they will choose someone out of their generation to lead them. Any thoughts on why this would be?

  • The idea that Prophets are in charge during a Crisis seems to be less supported than people think, perhaps because of looking at a small sample size of 3 4Ts (WWII, ACW, American Revolution), one of which is an acknowledged “anomaly”. Hancock and Washington in the American Revolution, James II in the Glorious Revolution, and Elizabeth I with the Spanish Armada are all Nomads.

    • dsohigian

      @Patrick Bowman – great points. Looking further back it does seem like
      Nomads are more the norm. It will be interesting to see who continues to
      lead as we head further into the 4T. Of course the Prophets (Boomers)
      currently control the legislature and this is likely to continue through
      most of the 4th Turning.

  • mertyme

    Good points Patrick. But — in those examples you give, I see hancock and washington working towards a massive solution to the problem, making tough decisions, austere measures (at times) and the willingness to take a hit on their own businesses to find a solution. (I admittedly don't know much about James II and Elizabeth's actions during those 4T.) These traits seem to match what Howe has written about the Nomads: that they are the ones that buckle-down, make the tough calls, and will bring us through a crisis. If Obama is a truly a nomad Gen-Xer, his behaviour thus far does not seem to match the archetype.

  • peggy

    my believe is that he is going to be re-elected