I have a score to settle with my fellow Millennials, the label we give the generation of youth born between the years 1983 to around 1999.Considering my position within a generation that has been lucky to have avoided two World Wars and enjoyed a superior quality of life than previous generations, it may come as a surprise that I hesitate to express my pride and gratitude of being known as a Millennial.
There are constant sweeping statements about Millennials that I have come to accept. I do not speak for the rest of my generation and do not intend to; however, I personally want to speak out as a concerned member of this generational cohort.
Our generation is at a crossroads. Either we buy this narrative where if we work hard to find a decent paying job to pay off our student loans, house mortgages or taxes it’ll all be worth it. Either that, or we choose to become aware of how different the modern-day lifestyle has become in comparison to generations prior, and change it.
How many times have we been criticised for relying on our parents too much? That back in the day relying on your parents for university fees was unacceptable; you were supposed to seize life by it’s behind and mold it into your wishes. The truth is not all of us have the opportunities to rely on our parents for university fees which further underlines my point: the world has become so financially focused that at this point the majority of western countries fail to address the financial issues that harm up and coming generations.
Now before any of you smart alecs accuse me of being a dreamer and an unrealistically minded Marxist, let me remind you that almost all of our parents, grandparents, experienced almost money free adventures during their time at university. University tuition was cheaper than today, in some countries literally free.
So, the notion that free university education could not possibly work is at best, a simplistic answer. Let me pull out some statistics here.
Increasing Financial Burdens:
Forbes published an article in February noting how the issue of student debt has become a 1.3 trillion USD crisis. They discuss how “The average student in the Class of 2016 has USD 37,172 in student loan debt.” That is a staggering amount for the US Millennial to handle, and at the current rate looks to be increasing.
This issue doesn’t limit itself to just the United States however, the United Kingdom also finds itself in a considerably dire situation. The Guardian Newspaper’s Angela Monaghan and Sally Weale reported in 2017 how “debt on loans jumped by 16.6% to £100.5bn at the end of March, up from £86.2bn a year earlier”. Bearing in mind that just in 2012 the total debt on loans in the UK was less than half of the level today, at £45.9bn, the increase is dramatic.
How about in my country, where just up until September had been governed by the conservative National Party (which is considered more left-wing than the US Democratic party)? Well, Holly Ryan of the New Zealand Herald, just last year claimed how “More than 728,000 people owe about $15 billion”. Compared to the $7.5 billion owed by only 445, 074 students in 2005 the growing financial student debt seems to be a worldwide phenomenon.
These figures refer back to my earlier point, of how the world is becoming ever more financially structured and the market even more deregulated. Of course, there is more to the story behind the increase in student tuition, an article for another time, what has this generation done about it? The answer? Not much.
Millennials and Voting: A Concerning Mismatch
Let’s consider the US election of 2016 for a minute here. We all know how Trump secured the White House with 304 electoral college votes to Clinton’s 227, despite receiving 2.9 million more votes in the popular vote. The result of this election wounded the American “left” resulting in tearful weeping and sobbing and immediate protests. I personally thought these protests of “Not My President” was totally pitiful and factually erroneous. He became your President through a democratic process, which the “left” lost. Trump won due to a multitude of factors which are still being examined. However, the approach Millennials took with voting in 2016 is worth considering.
The Centre for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), a non-partisan scholarly group providing data on youth voting, suggested how less than a quarter of Millennials voted in 2016. This takes into account, based off of the US Census Bureau research, that there are just over 83 million Millennials in the United States as of 2015. With only 19% of that total, between 18-24 million actually casting a vote out of a total of 128 million voters, it indicates a substantially low youth voter turnout.
“You’ve stolen our future” read the title of a CNN article a day after the Brexit Referendum that saw a shock decision by the general British public vote in favor of leaving the European Union. Those who voted in favor mainly consisted of voters aged between 18-24 with 64%. In contrast, those who voted to leave were statistically higher between the ages of 50-64, 49%, and over 65 with 58%. Those aged between 18-24 that voted to remain will have to live with the decision of those who voted to leave for around 69 years according to the statisticians at UK pollster YouGov.
Now, the Guardian reports that youth voter turnout was quite high at 64%. This is supported by the fact that it was previously thought only 36% of youth aged between 18-24 had voted. LSE Professor Michael Brunter comments how “young people voted a little bit less than average”. Now although turnout was higher than in the US election it was still less than the national average. Just like with the angry post-election results the youth howled in misery at the injustice done to them by a system that could have gone both ways.
The New Zealand Election of 2017 has seen for the first time since 2008 a New Zealand Labour Party-led coalition. However, this only came about due to coalition talks between the populist New Zealand First Party being persuaded by, the now Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. New Zealand First only managed to attain 9 seats, while Labour, and its environmentally focused parliamentary partner, the Green Party a total of 54 seats which was not enough to match the National Party’s 56 seats. So how was it that the New Zealand First Party was provided with the opportunity of forming a government, even though it only received 9 seats?
There are certainly a variety of factors that led to New Zealand First playing the role of “King Maker”, but in terms of voter turnout, the results are interesting. The Zealand Electoral Commission highlighted the substantially lower turnout between the ages of 18-29 with an approximate average of 68.41% of the vote compared to voters between 30-39 with an approximate average of 72.59 and voters between the ages of 40-49 at an approximate average of 78.9. I am not by any means implying that these figures account for the result on election night, I am simply highlighting the lower voter turnout amongst those aged between 18-29, better known as Millennials.
Why is there this recurring trend of lower voter turnout around such significant voting events? How is it that the only time we get angry and outraged is when the problem actually becomes reality? Why are we reactive rather than proactive? These are serious questions that need serious answers fast. What can be said, however, is that we, as a generation must take control of our future.
If Brexit and Trump are to be considered, Millennials can no longer rely on others to fight their battles. It is up to them. In my opinion, we should fight for a change in how this market-based society functions, and how we talk to others who may not agree with our opinions.
Let’s move on from being simply a politically reactive social media dependent, to one that is proactive and active. We must acknowledge that the only way to achieve our goals is by fighting for them, not online but on the streets. The fate of the planet will soon be in the hands of Millennials. Until we start to realize how significant the issues we face are, the sooner we may solve them.