America’s greatest population bubble, the Baby Boomers are now in their golden years. Many have retired and many will in the next decade.
Born after World War II, Baby Boomers grew up in an era where the United States was the greatest power on earth, having emerged victorious on all the global fronts around the world.
We were the generation that did not on a large scale suffer from the want that our parents did during the Great World Depression. Americans built new homes, schools and communities and expanded its economic might. We even helped friend and foe alike recover from the devastation of World War II.
On the social side, the FDR social programs provided a safety net floor for the poor, elderly and unemployed, yet there was deep social and economic injustice in our country, a residual legacy of racism and slavery. Many of us who grew up solidly middle class began to question how a great country such as ours could have so much injustice.
This summer, on our family civil rights tour to the south, the black and white TV images of brutal violence and murder came alive in places like Selma Alabama, Jackson Mississippi, Memphis Tennessee and Birmingham Alabama. Television was the social media viral video of its time.
Other TV images came alive of the Vietnam War, protests and demonstrations—this time in color. Baby boomers became the first great college going generation. “Teach-ins” led us to critically analyze and question what our government was doing.
Under a Republican president, the United States left Vietnam after 10 years and 50,000 lost American lives with proclamations that “we won” and that the South Vietnamese could defend themselves. Later, Vietnam fell to the Communists in less than three years. Today, we have normal diplomatic relations with Vietnam and a growing $30-billion trade relationship.
During the Baby Boom era, health programs for the poor and elderly were established, the Americans with Disabilities Act greatly enhanced access, Affirmative Action brought a whole new generation of diverse peoples into education and industry. And information technology would replace manufacturing as new dominant industry in the world.
Yet, for baby boomer social workers and the younger generations of social workers, our work is not done. Economic injustice has increased with the decline of the middle class and the ever-widening gap between rich and poor. The election of an African American president and incidents like Ferguson have exposed a persistent racism and criminal justice injustice. The world is a chaotic and dangerous place as it was during World War II. Our environment is threatened due to pollution and climate change.
As we baby boomer social workers leave the scene, the great social advances have been countered by great challenges. We are fortunate that our next generations of social workers have had the best education, best information technology and a strong continuous adherence to the Code of Ethics that will guide them as we have been guided. We won’t disappear either. Baby boomers have left their mark and social work is a better profession as a result of it.