Young People Have a Stake in the Future of the Economy

Millennials Must Join the Discourse Concerning the Poverty Numbers

The reality of the 2010 poverty data shows that Millennials are among the most highly affected—in the short term and long term—by public policy’s failure to protect America’s future generations. Data shows that the unemployment rate for people between the ages of 16 and 24 was an astonishing 18.4 percent in 2010. The number of young people living with their parents and contributing to doubled-up households hit 21.8 million in the 2010 Census, compared to to 19.7 million in 2007. Numbers like these make it clear that Millennials have a vested interest in the current political debates about our economy taking place around the country.

With the 2012 elections just around the corner, there is a clear opportunity to begin to shape the debate around the country to make sure all of the candidates are addressing the Millennial generation’s needs. But major legislation is being discussed and decided on right now. We cannot afford to wait until the next election. Here is how Millennials can make a difference today.

We can start by supporting the American Jobs Act. This legislation will have an immediate impact on Millennials around the country. The American Jobs Act is a legislation proposed by the Obama administration to get the American people back to work. It will help create jobs that will improve communities through building bridges and new schools, provide funding to retain teaching jobs, and offer tax incentives to businesses to start hiring.

Specifically, the bill targets creating job opportunities for low-income youth and adults through funding for job training and summer/yearlong jobs. Shirley Sagawa, Visiting Fellow at the Center for American Progress, explains that the consequences of youth unemployment have a long-term impact on our economy. Without dramatic steps taken by the government, young people could end up permanently economically marginalized. According to a study released by Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies, they are likely to “face deep long-term declines in their employability, earnings, family issues, and marriage rates.” Therefore, Millennials entering into and competing within today’s tough job market can directly benefit from legislation like the American Jobs Act.

Now is the time to fight back against harmful budget cuts. We have too much to lose to remain silent during the budget cut discussions. Congress is now making cuts that affect the most vulnerable Americans while protecting tax breaks for the wealthiest, which the Center for American Progress has shown does little to help our economy. Conservatives are bent on cutting many programs that directly affect young people’s economic future. Deficit reduction efforts have already hurt some social programs, and the threat of cuts from the super committee is looming. Programs such as Youth Build and AmeriCorps, which are responsible for administering job training and education that make young adults competitive for future work while providing current income, are on the chopping block. Funding for higher education, namely Pell Grants, is also at risk of being cut. The list continues on, calling for us to defend programs that have helped us all succeed, regardless of upbringing or social status.

There are avenues we can pursue to advocate by supporting grassroot organizations and individuals who are fighting every day against these harmful cuts. We can educate our friends and peers on these issues. Most importantly, Millennials must be aggressive. We need to speak up and out for the issues that affect us because we are the true vehicle of social change. Reflecting on past movements that have changed history, from the Civil Right Movement to the election of Barack Obama, youth were the game changers. With the level of access that we have with each other, we can’t take our power for granted at this very important time. We are needed to help save our future and that of the generations to come after us.

Right now, we are feeling the weight of reality as we fight through these tough times, but there are solutions out there to help solve our problems. Balancing our budget, funding education equitably, and creating more jobs for America can all help our struggling economy. The progressive agenda offers a tremendous way forward and we must work together and continue to be energized to bring the change we want. Therefore, we need to insert ourselves into current political discourse so we can be heard and taken seriously in how decisions are being made within local, state, and national governments.

Now is the time for us to be creative, entrepreneurial, and aggressive in an approach to helping this country move in the right direction. We need to be working to ensure that we have the same opportunities of attaining a quality education, obtaining homeownership, and building a strong future for our families, which we know is possible in the richest country on earth. The change that we call for now will affect the future generations that follow; ultimately we are responsible for them, because one day they will be responsible for ours.

Jasmin is the Special Assistant to the Senior Vice President for External Affairs at American Progress.