On Tuesday, millions of millennials will march to the polls and cast their vote for either President Barack Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney. In spite of young voters’ disillusionment with President Obama, and the damage of Superstorm Sandy, millennials will probably make a strong showing at the ballot box.
Stereotypes about our generation abound: we are, according to TIME Magazine “wildly optimistic”; we would rather know the name Snooki picked for her baby than inform ourselves about U. S. foreign policy. But the numbers speak for themselves. In 2008, according to The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) voter participation among 18-24 year olds was the third highest since 1971 at 48.5%. Since 2004, voter participation has been on the rise. And even though recent polling data suggests we might not see as strong of a turnout as four years ago, millennials still have the highest political participation rates since our parents, the baby boomers, were granted the right to vote at the age of 18 in 1971. Why are young people voting in such high numbers? The problems that we face are almost identical to those of our parents’ generation: wars that drag on with no end in sight, faltering job markets, and weak economies.
The job landscape for millennials since the end of the Bush administration has ranged from discouraging to bleak. The Bureau of Labor Statistics put the youth unemployment rate at 17.1% in July 2012. Forty-one years ago, in 1971, the national unemployment rate had risen to 5.9% from 4.9%, and the youth unemployment rate rose along with at a faster pace. In the early 1970s, the unemployment rate rose steadily before shooting up from 3% in 1971 to 9.7% in 1975. When our parents were young, they faced a job market that was similarly volatile and uncertain, and they were being drafted into a war that they did not condone. According to a report published just before the 2008 presidential election by The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), one of the explanations for the increase in youth voter turnout in the 2004 election and the 2006 midterms was the Iraq war, (also incredibly unpopular) and the weakening economy.
We are, in nearly every respect, our parent’s children. We inherited their curiosity, idealism, and skepticism of institutions, but we accomplished what our parents could not, and did not: we elected the first black man to the highest office in the land. In electing Obama, we collectively slowed the economic free-fall that began under the auspices of the Bush administration; repaired the damage to our reputation abroad; expanded the safety net that insured millions of Americans; and ended the war in Iraq. We did this not only through our votes, but also demanding thoughtful answers to complex problems through our tweets, texts, Facebook statuses and Tumblrs. Instead of relying on bureaucratic behemoths that groan under their own weight, we used communication technology to propagate issues that affect not only us, but our elders and those who will come after us. We are far from the self-absorbed navel-gazers that we are made out to be.
The young, more than any other sector of society, understand the importance of significant change within a tight timeframe. We will never be young again; the time to make our voices heard is now. We owe it to ourselves to set the course over the next four years, in order to shape the policies that will likely impact our peak working years and retirement. We understand that it’s not about us, and that we cannot afford to gamble with our future.