Research suggests millennials aren’t politically engaged, but a new study by the Case Foundation tells a different story. Seventy percent of millennials believe the country isn’t going in the right direction, but government officials can empower millennials by addressing issues they care about.
At the recent We the Future Summit in Boston, SAP brought key influencers and millennials together for a discussion focused on empowering younger generations to shape their own future by engaging in a thoughtful, collaborative political process.
In a panel moderated by Randi Zuckerberg, five congressional leaders — Representative Katherine Clark (MA-5), Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III (MA-4), Representative Stephanie Murphy (FL-7), Representative Eric Swalwell (CA-15), and Representative Seth Moulton (MA=6) — took this task seriously, addressing hot button issues and the need for millennials to step up and continue to push for the change they want.
Here are three of the topics they addressed.
The Promise That a College Degree Signals Financial Stability Is Falling Short
A college degree can open doors, but for many millennials, it’s to long-term debt. The average college grad with a bachelor’s degree owes almost $30,000 in student loans, accounting for nearly 80% of the annual income of a young adult. With debt like this, millennials have to wait to buy their first homes, put off getting married, and don’t even consider starting their own businesses – and it’s making a personal debt a widespread issue. “It’s a massive drag on students to have this debt, but also on our economy writ large,” said Representative Moulton.
This issue is compounded by the fact that a four-year degree doesn’t always guarantee full-time employment. 40% of unemployed workers are millennials, and more than one-third are participating in the gig economy. But according to Representative Murphy, it’s not a long-term solution for workers. She said 72% of universities believe they are prepping students for jobs and only 42% of hiring organizations say they actually do. “There’s a mismatch between the way people want to work and the way we are legislating for it,” Murphy said. Government officials have to build the “scaffolding” of what employers need and create an environment where millennials can thrive.
And looking at facets of education, that could mean millennials should consider vocational training or “stackable” degrees, according to Representatives Kennedy and Clark. Students wouldn’t incur the same level of debt, and finding a job with specific skills addressed in the curriculum could be easier. But with staggering waiting lists for folks who might consider a job in the trades, Kennedy said, “there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Technology Is Helping Foster a Transparent, Two-Way Discussion Between Government Officials and Their Constituents
Millennials are digitally native, and it’s clear they want to feel connected in this way to government officials. And over the past several years, government representatives are increasing their social presence to continue the dialogue this key demographic wants.
After the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando last year, Representatives Swalwell and Clark organized a sit in during a congressional session where gun control conversations were simply not going anywhere. For them, a recognized moment of silence was not enough. “We wanted moments of action,” Swalwell said, and when network coverage was suspended Representatives live streamed the sit in with Periscope, Facebook Live and Snapchat to ensure constituents knew their concerns were shared. “It was a powerful force multiplier,” said Swalwell, “So many people wrote back ‘finally’ because they were fed up.”
Without technology, the Representatives wouldn’t have been able to show the American people what they were doing. “Moments of silence have turned into years,” said Representative Clark. Without the live stream, constituents wouldn’t have even known the sit-in happened. For Clark, doing so enabled them to “air out how we can make things better.”
Being Politically Engaged Is More Than Sharing an Opinion on Social Media
Millennials feel deeply about what’s happening around them, but according to the panel, they’re disengaged due to the perceived “inaction” by government on key issues.
For Representative Murphy, millennials have to get actively engaged in what’s happening around them to impact change. Her advice: vote in all the elections (during the panel, Representative Swalwell said #alltheelections) and to use your voice to mobilize around key issues. It’s not enough to just post a comment on your social channels and then dust your hands of the issue. “You have to call your member of congress, or your senator. You have to engage proactively in advocacy for it to have an effect and resonate.”
Representative Kennedy agreed and quoted another congressional leader (John Lewis) to drive that point home. “When you pray, move your feet,” Kennedy shared. And to affect the change you want to see, “You gotta push.”
Millennials might feel that the government isn’t on their side, but political disengagement isn’t the answer to expressing that discontent. Being active in the process and pushing on issues that are important are two of the primary ways to impact change.