If I could speak for my generation, and the generation before me, I’d say to millennials — the young people born after 1980 — I’m sorry. We’ve let you down.
We’ve let you down in so many ways, in ways that will become even more apparent in the years ahead:
- Millennials are leaving college with record amounts of debt — close to $30,000 for the average Maryland graduate in 2015. The most extreme example is a young lawyer I met who has school loans totaling $330,000, for which he pays $4,000 a month, a hole that will take years to dig out of.
- Even with a college degree, many millennials will be prepared for jobs that no longer exist as automation disrupts the labor market. The over four million Americans working as drivers, for example, will see most of those jobs disappear in the next decade.
- We are leaving them with a health care system that is ridiculously expensive for individuals and businesses– we spend double the average industrialized country and our outcomes are only as good or worse.
- We are leaving them with the cost and remnants of two long, expensive and unnecessary wars — $5.6 trillion by some estimates — financed mostly by borrowed money.
- We have failed to adequately invest in our aging infrastructure — our roads, bridges, ports, airports and telecommunications systems — everything that drives our economy forward. There are parts of rural Maryland, for example, that don’t have broadband access, which is simply inexcusable.
- We are leaving them with unresolved social issues, including immigration, gun violence, and climate change, all issues we can’t seem to solve despite having broad consensus.
- The nation’s social security system is teetering. In 17 years, it will likely be insolvent and no longer be able to provide full benefits, requiring more millennials to care for their parents and grandparents.
- Their children will go to public schools that are now only average and can’t compete on the global stage. Schools across the country are struggling to teach kids with 25-year-old textbooks and few working computers. Underfunding of public schools in poverty-stricken areas of Baltimore has resulted in poor test scores, class sizes well over 30 and high turnover rates among teachers.
- We’re leaving them with a broken political system — a corrupt campaign finance system, gerrymandered districts, and partisan bickering by leaders who only care about winning the next election or the next news cycle. The result is a staggering lack of trust in our government institutions, especially Congress but including even our once honored law enforcement agencies.
- And finally, we are leaving them with an irresponsible amount of federal debt, which is expected to grow by more than $10 trillion over the next decade, equivalent to a very expensive four-year private college tuition bill for every one of them. This alone will be a costly drag on the economy, slowing growth and preventing needed investments in education, health care and other critical needs.
It’s no small wonder that a recent survey found that 51% of millennials (18–34 year-olds) say baby boomers (54–69 year-olds) have made things worse for their generation. Generation X (my generation) wasn’t pleased with the boomers either.
This dissatisfaction with the older generation (the ones in power) shows up in other surveys too. A new poll shows that enthusiasm for the Democratic Party among millennials (which in the past has shown broad support from young voters) has slipped almost 10 points in the last two years, down to 46% overall. Another survey shows dissatisfaction with both parties is shared by all voters, and nearly 60% say they believe a third party or multiple parties would help solve our problems.
All this confirms what I’m hearing as I campaign around Maryland. It’s clear to me that the generation of voters age 18–30 is ready for change. This generation is slowly waking up to the sad reality that confronts them. They realize that the boomers and the two political parties have failed them. They intuitively understand that partisan politicians are serving the needs of the special interests that fund their campaigns, not the people who elected them.
The sad fact is that one of the reasons politicians have ignored the younger generation for too long is because young people don’t vote in numbers equivalent to their elders, just 20% of them bother to vote in non-presidential years. In addition, there is no voice in Washington working for their concerns, no AARP for young people, no “Millennial PAC” contributing to candidates. A recent survey of voters in the upcoming midterms by Morning Consult found that voters rank “senior’s issues” the fourth most important concern after the economy, security issues and health care (“senior’s issues” ranked third among Democrats and Republicans). Tellingly, the only issue that relates to young people is “education,” which is rated important by just 7% of voters.
That’s why millennials are angry, and they should be. Politicians have ignored them and their concerns for the future. But I get a sense that they are about to turn that anger into action. They are ready to organize and upend the status quo, to oust do-nothing politicians, from both parties, and elect independent leaders who will prepare our country for the future. I know this is true because when I meet young people on the campaign trail and tell them I don’t belong to either party. I’m greeted warmly, you can see it on their faces. They listen, they’re curious, and they realize I’m on their side. I’m just as angry and frustrated with the two-party failures in Washington as they are, and I want their help to change it.
Millennials may not have the clout in DC that organized special interests have, but they do have one thing: they can vote. They can make a difference this November by having the courage to go to the polls in large numbers and reject the status quo. This can be their moment, our moment, to set a course toward non-partisan independent leadership that will, finally, address the issues that will improve the lives of the next generation and beyond.
As one young voter said to me, “Our generation doesn’t understand why our government is two teams trying to beat each other. Why aren’t they working together, as one team?”