The ‘wasted generation’ may not bother voting, for good reason
One year from now, we’ll elect a new president. It’ll be the first opportunity for what I call the wasted generation to vote - not that many will bother. What do I mean by wasted generation?
I’m talking about the 15.6 million Americans born between 1995 and 1999 - the first generation of the post-World War II era to grow up in a land of diminished economic expectations, corrosive cynicism and institutional distrust.
Think about it. Born during the petty, partisan end of the Clinton era, they were barely out of their diapers when the towers fell on 9/11 and elementary, middle school and high schoolers while their country fought, at the same time, the two longest wars in its history. They came into the world just as their parents’ incomes were probably peaking — median wages, adjusted for inflation, topped out in 1998 and 1999 — and their Moms and Dads have since been squeezed by the two most devastating stock collapses since the Great Depression and a housing collapse of historic proportions. Now they’re heading off to college or already there, and can expect to rack up nearly $29,000 in debt before even graduating.
Older Americans may remember better times. But for this group—and tens of millions born after them—it’s all they’ve known. Cynicism, war, economic stagnation—this is their “normal.” This is what we have bequeathed them. Is it any wonder polls show that young Americans don’t trust government or big corporations? They don’t trust organized religion. They don’t trust us—the media—either, and I don’t blame them.
They don’t trust the financial system, either. When you’re 20 and have a 40-to-50 year investment horizon, you should be plowing cash into stocks—but when the market crashes 50% like it did between March 1999 and October 2002—only to be eclipsed just five later by a 57% bloodbath, it makes it easier to understand their skittishness. No surprise, then, that anti-establishment candidates like Democrat Bernie “the markets are rigged” Sanders and Republican Donald “make America great again” Trump are popular with this young, emerging slice of the electorate.
On Facebook, for example, nearly two million people like Sanders’s page — 600,000 more than Hillary Clinton. As for Trump, one poll showed Republican millennials backing him by a 3-to-1 margin over anyone else.
This may sound like one of those generation gap stories, where older folks complain about the “kids” doing their own thing and the kids not trusting “anyone over 30.” It’s not. From sea to shining sea, distrust and anger ripples across America: Only about a quarter of us think the country is on the right track; it hasn’t topped 50% since December 2003.
But it’s the corrosive effect on the millennials that’s most bothersome. Based on two decades worth of data, the Pew Research Center, a respected Washington think tank, notes that “generations carry with them the imprint of early political experiences.” In other words, it’s going to be awfully hard for millions and millions of young Americans to overcome the wide distrust they have—and again, the only thing they’ve known—of establishment institutions; the economic and political implications in the years ahead could be huge.
Here’s the way millennials see it:
Those that can scrape together the means to go to college know there’s now a school shooting once a week in this country.
Thanks to that average $29 grand in debt and uncertain job prospects, an increasing number of them will move back in with Mom and Dad when they graduate.
Invest in stocks? Even if millennials didn’t think the market was fixed they don’t have the dough.
Buy a home? What a joke: the number of first-time home buyers is at its lowest level in three decades.
Only a handful of these kids will have steady employment with the same company over the course of their careers; many will have multiple employers — few of which will offer pensions.
Millennials don’t expect Social Security to be around in 40 years and unless painful changes are made to shore up the system, it won’t be.
The slow-moving and undeniable effects of climate change will affect them far more than the rest of us; and while we bicker about the cost of action, we’re too ignorant to realize that the cost of inaction is likely to be far greater.
Older age groups like to criticize millennials: they’re spoiled, have a sense of entitlement. Actually, the rest of us should look in the mirror. We’re leaving those who will follow one hell of a mess.