Who Are The Millennials?
October 17, 2012
By: Hayley Solarz
I count myself among the American teens and twenty-somethings positioning themselves for an increasingly competitive, more uncertain future. Employment and educational opportunities have grown scarcer and costlier in the wake of the Great Recession. And for better or worse, the conditions affecting young people today – ongoing unemployment, the skyrocketing cost of higher education, and the crippling costs of student loans – are shaping the attitudes and future prospects of Generation-Y.
While there may be reasons to cast doubt on youth turnout this election cycle, some studies are illuminating what sets Gen-Y apart from its elders – and what that means for our greater civic potential.
We’re More Educated
The good news lies in an uplifting portrait of the “Millennial” generation by the Pew Research Center. The study finds that while Millennials hold the highest shares of unemployment among all other age demographics, we are at least preparing for the demands of a modern, information-based economy. Record numbers of 18 to 24-year-olds are enrolled in college, with rapidly rising numbers pursuing graduate degrees. As a result, we are on the course to become the most educated generation in American history.
We’re Technologically Adept
There’s no doubt that our generation’s technological ability is giving us an advantage in a new and changing economy. But it’s also possible that our “plugged-in” mindset complicates the rosy portrait of Millennials supported by the Pew report.
In a conflicting study published by the American Psychological Association, Millennials are apparently more selfish, fame-seeking and less politically engaged than all other groups. According to the APA, one of our top priorities is getting rich. Studies like these make the case for those who believe that Millennials’ oversaturation in technology and social media has caused the generation to detach from wider societal issues and turn inward toward self-serving objectives.
We’re More Tolerant, We Trust Government
There are reasons to stay hopeful, though. Pew finds that due to cultural and demographic changes, Millennials are the most ethnically and racially diverse age group. As a result, they report higher levels of social tolerance. Young Americans are also less skeptical than older generations of their government, reporting higher levels of those stating that government should do more to solve problems.
To this point, the Public Religion Research Institute finds that Millennials take a strong stand against economic inequality. Seven in 10 college-aged Americans hold the view that the government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. Hopefully, a higher trust in government can bring people together to resolve these issues.
How Millennials Can Get Engaged For Social Good
Reset recognizes that one challenge of a changing political environment is making citizen engagement a priority for young people. Beyond just being plugged-in, Millennials should strive to be engaged. As the most “tech-savvy” generation, we need to leverage the potential for social media and technology to promote citizen engagement with government. In doing so, we can one-up studies that trumpet how impressive it is that we care about racial justice, gender issues, class divides and problems with government by using our skills to solve such issues. Knowledge is the first step, but to lead on these issues we need to communicate our concerns both to each other and to our government.
Achieving Government 2.0 success is all about harnessing the technologies so pervasive in our lives and using them to work towards the greater good. You can use these tools to tweet your member of Congress. You can inform your friends by sharing news and opinions on Facebook. Using your smartphone, you can capture the local town hall debate or take a snapshot of a street pothole that needs fixing.
Beyond these basic steps, sites like Reset are striving to move beyond the information-sharing stage and towards real political efficacy. Ask yourself, how can I reach others, and how can I organize people? How can I best express to my representative the importance of expanding opportunities to young people and to future generations? These questions are vital, and in addressing them perhaps we will see government’s priorities shift to the concerns of the hyper-aware, hyper-connected Millennial set.