In working-class Jersey City, New Jersey in the 1950s, there was the mythology of several generations of a family living happily under one roof.
On the top floor of a cold-water walk-up, my grandparents, their married daughter and her husband, a fluctuating number of grandchildren (whose parents were in other states working), and relatives from the old country co-existed.
With the exception of the grandchildren, there was plenty of tension among the generations. America was founded on the Puritan version of capitalism. Unless you could be increasing your productivity, you were considered less-than.
Yes, the grandparents, even though they were both employed full time, were treated as less-than. Their son-in-law fled to California. Even the recent immigrants itched to get the hell out of that dysfunctional family configuration.
Currently, things are even more ugly among generations. We Baby Boomers won't or can't retire. That clogs the channels for upward mobility.
The young in our fields are throwing off the compensation curve. They are willing to labor for peanuts. Or even free.
Those in the mid-range fear they will wind up like us Baby Boomers, unable to leave the world of work. That's the source of their scorn of us.
Members of Generation Z, the oldest of which are in college, don't want to be like any of us. Not Generations Y, X, or Baby Boomer.
Even if the recovery picks up steam, there will still be dog fights over what opportunities emerge.
Meanwhile, each generation tends to function in a silo, only hiring their own.
Those of us who do retire will likely wind up in age-segregated housing. Here in southern Arizona, there are the supposed Paradises for seniors in developments such as Saddlebrooke. One of the residents, former college acquaintance Kathleen Huebner, invited me for lunch. Nonono, I thought to myself. Please let me never wind up there.
Is there a way to bring the generations together? Probably not.
Even in my mindfulness groups, after the meditation and discussion, the group splits into age-related factions. Millennials go out to eat. Generation X goes home to kids. Baby Boomers talk in the parking lot.
The generation gap has hardened into extreme wariness. Several times I reached beyond mine. The results were not pretty.