Trumpcare is, on the whole, terrible. But if you’re a millennial, it does have one thing going for it: It’s virtually the only piece of the Trump platform that advantages the young at the expense of the old.
The rest of the Trump agenda could be broadly characterized as full-on generational warfare against the young. If enacted, it will rob millennials and subsequent generations of earnings, benefits, consumer protections and even — if you look far enough into the future — a habitable place to live.
Let’s start with the Trump tax plan.
The latest iteration of this “plan” is so vague as to be meaningless. But based on proposals President Trump released during the campaign, and comments made in recent weeks by both administration officials and Republican legislators, the coming overhaul will almost certainly be heavily weighted toward the wealthy. An earlier version of the plan directed about half the value of tax cuts to the top 1 percent of earners, according to a Tax Policy Center analysis.
These tax cuts also look likely to add trillions to the debt, again based on analyses of earlier plan versions. (Despite administration promises, virtually no serious economists believe the plan would “pay for itself” through additional economic growth.)
All this amounts to a massive intergenerational transfer of wealth, one that hits millennials in at least two ways. The first has to do with who benefits most from a top-heavy tax cut.
A marginal rate cut is most valuable when you’re in your peak earning years, which tend to come around middle age. That’s because when your income is highest, so is your tax liability.
Millennials are at the beginning of their careers, and both their wages and taxes are low relative to what they will earn, and remit to Uncle Sam, as they gain work experience. All this means that a tax cut today, particularly one tilted toward the highest earners, would not help young people as much as it would mid-career people in their 40s and 50s.
The second is that an unfunded tax cut — like anything else that increases the federal debt — is not free. Eventually someone has to pay for it.
By the looks of things, that someone is not going to be baby boomers. Instead, younger Americans will pick up the tab, through higher taxes, fewer government services or both. Already millennials worry that their entitlements have been irreparably endangered by fiscal profligacy; a 2014 Pew Research Center survey found that half believe there won’t be anything left in the Social Security system by the time they retire.
Taxes are hardly the only way the Trump administration is giving millennials the shaft. A host of changes to the student lending industry are doing the same.
These include reversals of Obama-era policies designed to limit fees that struggling borrowers must pay, and to reduce the likelihood that new student loan contracts are awarded to lenders with a record of shoddy service or illegal behavior.
But perhaps the Trump agenda plank that harms the largest swath of millennials is the administration’s climate change policy. Or lack thereof.
The White House is weighing whether to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, which requires the United States to sharply reduce its carbon output by 2025. In the meantime, the Trump administration has already been undermining climate policy by disappearing public data, firing academic scientists and rewriting rules designed to curb emissions.
Even before Trump took office, the nonprofit Our Children’s Trust filed a series of lawsuits on behalf of minors who argue that their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property are being violated by the government’s failure to address climate change.
The suits are based on the public trust doctrine, a long-standing legal concept designed to protect natural and cultural resources for the benefit of current and future generations. The grounds for such suits will only grow as the White House makes clear it prioritizes the political expediencies of the present over any responsibility to the future — a future that, needless to say, millennials are stuck with.
If you take the long view, even the Trumpcare proposal doesn’t truly promote millennials’ interests. Yes, it allows insurers to vary their premiums by a factor of 5 to 1 due to age, which helps today’s young (at least, today’s young and healthy). But it doesn’t shield us from rate hikes as we ourselves age.
Add this — and fiscal, financial and climate concerns — to all the usual reasons many young people dread growing old.
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