Americans born between the early to mid 1980s and the late 1990s inherited the label “Millennials” from demographers William Strauss and Neil Howe. And we also inherited something else: an ineffective political system, and an economy marred by inequality and insecurity. In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, I propose a 10-point platform that addresses the unique straits and aspirations of our generation. Because if we come to the table without an agenda, we can only look on as others eat first and leave us the crumbs. In love, life, and politics, Millennials on the road to maturity must learn the art of articulating our needs.
1. Change the Drinking Age from 21 to 18
Let’s start with a simple one. I’m 31. I teach and mentor college students. And I remember my own experience as an undergrad vividly. Between school, work, dating, keeping in touch with our families, and seeking out scholarships, the amount of responsibilities we’re asked to juggle in these years is mind-boggling. And we’re asked to do it all without booze, which everyone knows we’re drinking anyway. Though I’m a decade removed from college, I still remember being excluded from networking functions with grad students who I could’ve learned a ton from, simply because they took place in venues that served alcohol. Some campaigns are symbolic, and some are substantive—this one is both: Beer Now.
2. Change the minimum age for president from 35 to 25
Nothing about age necessarily indicates maturity or experience. Donald Trump has overseen four bankruptcies, and is considerably less rich than he would’ve been if he simply invested his inheritance in conservative index funds. He gets to run for president on a “pro-business” platform. But somebody like Mark Zuckerberg—who was a self-made billionaire before he could legally rent a car—won’t be eligible until 2019. This is absurd. Not making the office of the presidency accessible to Americans of a certain age enforces a sense of second-class citizenship, a feeling of being trapped in a world run by “adults.” One of the reasons that Millennial #BlackLivesMatter activists have to interrupt presidential candidates at their events is because we aren’t old enough to run for the office ourselves. This needs to change for Millennials, and for future generations as well.
3. Student Loan Debt Reduction & Regulation
Anybody who has thought seriously about the Millennial condition for two seconds knew this one was coming. Anya Kamenetz was right; Millennials really are “Generation Debt.” We accept that the federal reserve can literally adjust the price of money by setting interest rates which impact the citizenry’s access to mortgages and home ownership. That being the case, the Department of Education should be able to abolish costly fees and penalties on student loans, and prevent them from being securitized by predatory private firms who profit from them. In addition, student loan debts owed to private firms could become the subject of a preemptive bailout before they further entangle our financial system and put us at risk for a future recession. If Ryan Gosling’s character in The Big Short is clear about anything, it’s that collatorized debt is a neoliberal tower of Jenga just waiting to come crashing down. I’m one of millions of Millennials who entered the job market in 2008, in a world beset by debt and economic downturn. We can prevent that from happening to our kids.
4. Job Classification Reform
Interns. Freelancers. Temps. The Millennial debt burden has made many of us members of an undercaste of laborers who endure low-wage gigs that don’t pay healthcare benefits. Aware of our precarious situation, corporations and non-profits in search of cheap labor prey on our desperation. They give us work, but refuse to classify us as employees—despite the fact that we perform vital functions for them. It’s no surprise that many believe the exploitative canard that Millennials “prefer praise to pay.” This is unacceptable and unfair. The Supreme Court of California’s recent ruling which dictated that Über drivers are to be treated as employees—not as “contractors”—set an important precedent. Hopefully, the localized rumblings will treble into federal reform. An employee is an employee is an employee.
5. Federally-mandated Wage Reform, and 6. Mandatory Income Tax
The cities that Millennials live and work in are increasingly cash-strapped. Budgetary shortfalls happen when a city’s tax base shrinks due to a) the disappearance of jobs and taxable income, and b) a reluctance to tax big businesses. As a result, many of these cities—and the people in them—take desperate measures on the path to financial solvency. Young people may look to the drug trade to supplant the income they get from poverty-wage jobs; and cash-strapped police departments lobby the federal government for grants and equipment that are tied to trumped-up crime rates and bogus arrest quotas. If America committed to growing its tax base with higher wages and a more progressive tax structure, there will be less incentive for citizens to commit certain crimes, and less incentive for cities to manufacture crime rates. Millennial activists have forced us to talk about police brutality as a race issue; the point is seldom made that it’s a socioeconomic one as well.
7. A Federal Transportation Initiative, combined with 8. A Federal Jobs Program, and 9. A Clear Path to Citizenship for Millennial Immigrants
For many Millennials, the mid-20th century days of automobile-centered lifestyles in homogenous suburbs are a pipe dream. And we should be glad. As the generation that saw the Exxon Oil Spill of 1989 repeated by BP in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the overwhelming majority of Millennials support weaning America off of fossil fuel dependency. There’s no reason why a federal mandate—including dedicated financial subsidies—couldn’t encourage companies like Ford or Boeing to reinvent themselves as pioneers of a countrywide rapid rail transit system. A coherent green jobs program to build this transit system could be coupled with a clear path to citizenship for immigrant Millennials, who could earn full political enfranchisement by getting a decent-paying job in infrastructural development for these transit projects. This is about making the world better for Millennials in the present, and for future generations as well.
10. A Universal Caregiver Model
At the center of our generational situation as Millennials is the fact that we’re post-Boomers who will be entrusted with the task of caring for the previous generation while we work with limited resources to raise the next one. The stigma around so-called “pink collar” work is the result of deeply rooted sexism; the lack of respect for work traditionally seen as feminine. This needs to end. We are all vulnerable. We start off in life in need of care, and we end it the same way. We need federally mandated paid maternity/paternity leave, as well as accompanying stipends for child rearing and elder care. Several states already pay caregivers for the work they do to care for the aging, differently abled, and mentally ill. If it weren’t for this labor, many of our most vulnerable citizens would reside in state-run facilities, which cost exponentially more to maintain than paying an in-home caregiver. The model needs to be expanded to respect the work that men and women do to raise families.
This platform is non-partisan, pragmatic, and perfectly achievable within the current realm of political possibility. Some elements of it may appeal more to a conservative sensibility, and others to those who are more liberal. But while apolitical radicals on the right and left go on decrying the status quo without suggesting something better, I wonder what would happen if we lobbied for achievable reforms using the resources available to us. As Millennials, speaking up for ourselves clearly and in good faith will help us identify the obstacles that stand in the way of a more perfect union.