The Millennial Challenge

Millennials we see on these campuses are surprisingly dimensional for being so young

By Diane Smith

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been on university campuses from Missoula to Billings. It’s always illuminating to spend time with young adults; it’s particularly fascinating in a presidential election year.

According to a report from still-too-big-to-fail bank Goldman Sachs (which obviously has reason to understand these sorts of things) 15-to-35-year-olds represent the biggest generation in U.S. history. Goldman’s report found that there are 92 million millennials (ages 15-35), 61 million Gen Xers (ages 36-50), and 77 million baby boomers (ages 51-70). The millennial generation is predicted to change our futures in significant ways. Nowhere is this more likely to be felt than in politics.

The millennials we see on these campuses are surprisingly dimensional for being so young. They get accused of being entitled and coddled but that’s obviously not the whole picture. They’re digitally savvy, cynical, aspirational, and communal while simultaneously libertarian in intriguing ways. According to the Goldman report, they exercise more, eat smarter, and smoke less than their predecessors. So it appears that just like the baby boomer generation disrupted the thinking and sensibilities of earlier generations (remember the ‘60s?), millennials are poised to be pretty disruptive themselves.

As we’ve talked politics and listened closely, some consistent themes have emerged. So, I’m taking the liberty to report back on the questions millennials seem to want answered by their political candidates. These questions may or may not determine the outcome of the 2016 elections. Regardless, it seems pretty clear that they’ll likely be big in the near future so we all might want to start getting familiar with them now.

  • How will you address wealth inequality and the shrinking middle class?
  • How do you intend to protect the earth from excessive demands on its resources and capacity?
  • How will you promote diversity in hiring, opportunity, and justice?
  • How will you ensure accessible, affordable healthcare?
  • Under what conditions will you commit our troops to foreign conflict?
  • In summary, what are your plans to ensure that 5-10 years from now we’re confident of equal opportunity and protection, living on a livable earth, and using our technological and intellectual progress to improve daily life?

The national political candidates haven’t really proposed much in the way of compelling, new ideas to address these matters. Maybe because few of them believe that millennials will actually show up to vote in 2016. Or maybe they’re planning to roll out new ideas after the primaries. Sooner or later though, this fascinating, complicated generation will engage. And, when 92 million people demand change, change will happen. Hang on. It’s gonna be quite a ride.

Learn more about Diane by following her column here or visit American Rural at AmericanRural.org.

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