Note to 2012 Candidates: Have a Plan for Your Young Constituents
As primary season winds down, political candidates across the country are gearing up for their general elections in the fall. That means lots of fundraising, attending events, strategizing and, yes, writing a platform. After all, every candidate has to answer the question: if elected, what will you actually do? A bit of advice for aspiring candidates: have a plan for young people.
One good reason to do this is that it is in your self-interest. The millennial generation -- the largest in American history -- accounted for 18 percent of the voters in 2008 and more than a fifth of the electorate in several swing states. We expect similar turnout this fall. Like any group, they are more likely to vote for you if you show that you understand their concerns and have solutions to their problems. You do not want to show up at a youth town hall empty-handed.
But there is a more important reason at work: young people are the future of this country, and they're struggling. College grads are having a hard time finding work in their chosen field, though even they face an unemployment rate far below many of their peers. In fact, the last 30 years have been brutal for anyone without some kind of credential past high school. The typical young adult male with a high school diploma makes about 75 cents on the dollar his dad earned in 1980. The reason for this is widely known: our technologically driven, globalized economy increasingly values skill and education.
Unfortunately, as a country we only graduate about one-third of young people with a 4-year degree. Another 1 in 10 are able to earn an associate's degree. For decades we paced the world in these categories, but as the Wall Street Journal reports, our progress has stalled of late. Other countries are flying by as we are set to come up 3 million degrees short by the year 2018. This is not a strategy for 21st century success.
No wonder nearly half this generation believes it will end up worse off than their parents. The problems extend beyond falling wages and graduation rates. Many young people can now stay on their parents' plan, but this change has only begun to reverse a decades-long trend that made health insurance increasingly inaccessible for younger workers. Rent takes up a larger proportion of their income than ever. Childcare for two children beats median rent in every state in the country. On every economic indicator of the American dream -- a solid education, a house and a family -- this generation sees warning lights.
As a candidate running this year, you are going to need a plan that addresses these big challenges with serious solutions. And if you care about the country, this is a problem you are going to want to spend some time on. It is not about being a Democrat or Republican. Nor is it only for federal candidates. It is going to take policymakers at the federal state and local level, academics, business leaders, educational institutions, media, and without a doubt, young people themselves moving in the right direction.
If you are not sure what to do next, don't worry because our generation is already showing you the way. Young Invincibles has toured 20 states over the last two months, hosting conversations with young people about the challenges they see and their ideas for making things better. We'll release a number of the best ideas this summer, and package them in a tangible youth policy agenda. Our partner organizations SparkAction and Mobilize.org are each crowd-sourcing solutions online where participants with the most votes will earn money to implement their projects.
It is time for political leaders across the country to take notice. And that doesn't mean taking your general talking points and rebranding them for a "youth" audience. It means offering specific solutions that address the unique challenges affecting this generation. Any serious candidate running for political office should have a real youth agenda. Our generation deserves no less, and the future of our country depends upon it.
Rory O'Sullivan is Policy and Research Director at Young Invincibles.
This article was originally published on the Huffington Post.