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Generation Progressive

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This article was originally published at CampusProgress.org.

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Amanda Logan

May 20, 2008

Young adults today--often known as the Millennial generation--have always been perceived as more socially liberal, but today's young people also have progressive views on the economy as well. Not only do Millennials have more progressive economic views than any other age group today, especially compared to the conservative views of Generation X, men and women who are now in their 30s and early 40s.

According to a recent Center for American Progress report, a majority of 18- to 29-year-olds (the ages CAP's report used to define the Millennial generation) believe that the government can be a force for good in the economy. Millennials also believe that increased public investments in healthcare, education, and other areas are necessary to ensure strong and sustainable economic growth. Furthermore, Millennials largely reject the conservative viewpoint that government is the problem, and they don't necessarily believe that free markets always have the answers.

What types of issues do Millennials have progressive views on?

While previous studies about Millennials have largely focused on their views about social issues, CAP's report provides an extensive examination of the economic views of young adults today. On a wide range of economic issues, young people look to the government to be a force for good in the economy.

  • Millennials are more likely to support universal health coverage than any age group in the 30 previous years the question has been asked, with 57 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds saying that health insurance should come from a government insurance plan.
  • Sixty-one percent of Millennials think the government should provide more services, not less.
  • A vast majority, 87 percent, of Millennials think the government should spend more money on health care even if a tax increase is required to pay for it. This is the highest level of support in the question's 20-year history.
  • An overwhelming 95 percent of Millennials think education spending should be increased even if a tax increase is required to pay for it.
  • Millennials are supportive of labor unions, giving them an average ranking of 60 on a 0-to-100 scale (with a 100 rating as the most positive view), the second-highest level of support of any age group in the over 40-year history of the question.

Why should people (and politicians) care about what young people today think?

There are a lot of Millennials and they know how to vote. Millennials are already the most populous generation today, totaling between 80 and 95 million people, which makes up roughly 25 to 30 percent of the population. This exceeds the number of baby boomers, who are now between 43 and 62 years of age. Millennials will make up an even larger percentage of the population as older generations pass away.

Millennials are a large and politically active generation that cares deeply about economic issues. Studies have found that they are, for example, more likely to express interest in politics and elections, care a good deal who wins, try to influence others' votes, and attend political meetings. According to a report by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, Millennials "are not bashful about expressing their voice and are quite active in the civic realms of group membership and volunteering."

And Millennials are voting at increasing rates. Although young people remain less likely to vote than other age groups, Millennials are starting to close the gap. "In the primary elections held thus far in 2008," noted a Pew Research Center paper, "voter turnout has been up sharply, especially among young people." And the increases in voting for Millennials this year has come on top of other recent increases. In 2004, "turnout among young voters increased 12 percent compared to 2000, the biggest increase in any single age group." As Heather Smith, the executive director of Rock the Vote, has argued, "2008 is set to become the third major election in a row with an increase in turnout among young voters." All of the three of the remaining presidential candidates and the many political analysts commenting on the race have taken notice of the potential impact of Millennials' votes and are making efforts to reach young voters.

What are Millennials concerned about as they head to the voting booth?

The economy is ranked as the most important issue for Millennials in this year's election, and has already proven to be a bigger concern for Millennials than older generations. For example, in the 2006 election, 23 percent of voters under 30 cited the economy as the most important issue, compared to only 14 percent of the rest of the electorate. A 2003 survey of 15-to 25-year-olds found that "jobs and the economy" was the most important problem facing the country, nearly double the number that said the war in Iraq. And as New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Bob Herbert wrote last week, Millennials are "in danger of being left out of the American dream--the first American generation to do less well economically than their parents. And that economic uncertainty appears to have played a big role in shaping their views of government and politics."

Why are Millennials so progressive?

Research points to a number of possible reasons why in time they may well become known in the future as the progressive generation.

Young adults today face more significant economic challenges than have other recent generations, including lower rates of healthcare coverage--the lowest rate in comparison to other age groups--worsening job prospects and earnings, a decline in benefits offered by their employers, and higher levels of student debt and other types of debt. All of these challenges facing Millennials are legacies of the conservative policies that have dominated in recent years. In addition, Millennials are more likely than other age groups to disapprove of George W. Bush's handling of his presidency, which could be fueling a rejection of the larger conservative platform and driving support for progressive policies.

Will Millennials be progressives for life?

Research suggests that the political opinions and voting patterns of young adults are likely to carry forward throughout their lives. Political attachments attitudes formed in early adulthood often continue to be held later in life. As a result, the shared experiences of Millennials--like those who lived through the Great Depression and World War II--can form a lasting worldview that shapes their political views throughout their lifetimes.

And evidence indicates that Millennials already have a distinct generational identity, with 69 percent of them thinking their age group is unique, compared to only 42 percent of Generation X and 50 percent of baby boomers, who are now between 43 and 62 years of age.

This Progressive Generation could well be poised to transform the American political landscape in 2008 and beyond due to their embrace of decidedly progressive positions on economic issues and the role of government in the economy. Only time will tell, but it seems that Millennials just might be a progressive force to be reckoned with.

Amanda Logan is a Research Associate with the Economic Policy Team at the Center for American Progress and co-authored The Progressive Generation: How Young Adults Think About the Economy with Dr. David Madland. She graduated from Moravian College in 2006.

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