This year, Americans between the ages of 18 and 30, better known Millennials, will surpass the Baby Boomers to become the nation’s largest living generation. There are more than 75 million of us and we’re growing larger every year. We represent more than one third of the U.S. workforce and will make up nearly half by 2020. And by the next presidential election there will be more than 80 million of us eligible to vote, which represents more than a third of all eligible voters.
Those numbers should speak to our economic and political power. After all, our size alone should be enough to warn politicians that they ignore Millennials’ interests at their own risk. And yet, through some twist of fate our generation has largely been ignored or abused by Washington.
Our health insurance costs have skyrocketed, our unemployment rate remains well above the national average, the explosive growth of programs that benefit the old at the expense of the young has continued unabated, our tuition costs and student loan debts are ballooning, and policies like minimum wage hikes and labor market regulations that hurt young workers proliferate by the day.
Part of the problem is that we haven’t traditionally voted at nearly the same rates as other, more politically persuasive, generations. For instance, in the 2012 election only 41 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted compared with a 72 percent turnout rate for those ages 65 and older. That 32-point gap is more than double what it was in 1964.
But that is a function of our discouragement more than our apathy. Unfortunately, we haven’t just inherited a poor economy and unsustainable debts, we’ve also come of age during a period of polarizing, partisan politics that has been stuck in gridlock as much as it has been making progress.
Of course, none of that stops candidates promising young adults the moon every four years only to come back, hat in hand, to say that they just couldn’t get around to helping this time.
President Obama was supposed to change that. As he said in 2008, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
Only to follow it up four years later with, “The most important lesson I’ve learned is you can’t change Washington from the inside.”
It should come as little wonder then that young voters have become increasingly disillusioned, not only with the president, but with politics in general. A recent poll showed that just 25 percent of Millennials trust the federal government “to do the right thing” all or most of the time.
Despite the constant cycle of discouragement, Millennials have somehow fended off pessimism. Instead, we remain enterprising, innovative and connected. We are preternaturally optimistic, confident in our own ability, and continue to believe deeply in our ability to achieve the American Dream. We are a technologically savvy generation of startup mavens, who crave customization, question everything, and will topple the status quo with the tap of an app. We have goals, we have vision and now we have numbers that politicians will be forced to pay attention to.
Perhaps most importantly, we’re a generation that is up for grabs and capable of swinging the tide of any election. But we’re not going to come off the sidelines and throw our political weight around for just any candidate. We’re tired of promises that are never fulfilled and speeches that never turn to action. We’re tired of constant scandal and questionable quid pro quos and political cronyism and any other dubious ways to leverage government power. Frankly, we’re just tired of politics (and especially politicians’ false assurances that they’ll eschew politics as usual).
What we need is a candidate who shares our ideas for the future and understands that the best way to achieve it is for the government to largely get out of the way. If a party can tap into the energy of Millennials by giving us a reason to put aside our cynicism and vote then there will be little doubt we’ll power a candidate to victory.