The life of Julia's son, Zachary

Age 5: Zachary starts kindergarten. Julia drops Zachary off at his first day of public kindergarten. She is surprised and perplexed to find that despite the hefty local property taxes she pays, the class is large. While Zachary is at school, Julia does some Googling and finds that more and more of her taxes pay for pension and health benefits for retired teachers, not for salaries for current teachers. She wonders vaguely whether all that money from the federal government will really help Zachary…

Age 25: Zachary meets a nice girl. Zachary meets a woman at work (his employer has taken a legal chance on this hardworking young lady). But in getting to know her, Zachary learns that she has $70,000 in student loans, plus $10,000 in credit-card debt. She makes about the same salary that Zachary does. Zachary likes her, but he can’t help but worry that if he got serious with her, he would be taking on a tremendous debt burden. Zachary often thinks long-term; he realizes that if he married her in a few years, both of them would have to work full-time, even if they had children, in order to stay current on the debt. They remain friends…

Age 42: Zachary’s mom calls him, crying. Julia is 73 now. She likes working, so she wasn’t too upset when the government abruptly pushed the Social Security retirement age for full benefits back five years, to 72. But now that she’s been collecting benefits for a year, she realizes that what she collects isn’t enough to live on. She’s more upset, though, at the reforms to Medicare that have just been enacted. Though generations of politicians promised never to touch benefits for people close to retirement age, in the end, they had no choice: younger voters demanded it. The basic Medicare package now will cover only big-ticket items. All but the poorest are on their own when it comes to doctor’s visits, prescription drugs, and tests.