July 29, 2009
Beneath the imposing marble weight of the Capitol building, a group of people who might someday work within its halls meets to discuss the future.
On July 15, the newly assembled 80 Million Strong for Young American Jobs Coalition convened for its first summit. The group represent the interests of those disproportionately affected by the economic downturn: youth.
The numbers paint a bleak picture: The unemployment rate among young people is at 17.8 percent. That’s eight percent above the national average. In the contracting job market, youth find themselves competing for their first jobs with people who have five years or more of experience in the workforce. It is these youth who then find themselves un- or under-insured. According to a DEMOS report (PDF), almost a third of young people do not have health insurance. Complicating matters is the weight of students loans. The average college graduate owes $27,000.
If you want your voice to be heard in Washington, you have to establish yourself as a constituency with interests to be championed. Earlier this spring, 80 Million Strong founders, including Co-Chair Maya Enista of Mobilize.org along with the leaders of 26 other organizations (The Roosevelt Institution, Student Association for Voter Empowerment, Advocates for Youth, the Hip-Hop Caucus, Voto Latino, etc.), decided to do just that. They represent the millennial generation, defined as anyone born between 1976 and 1996. All told, that’s about 80 million constituents–a sizable force to be reckoned with.
The summit brought together over a hundred “millennials” from around the country, all of whom had to submit an innovative policy idea to gain admittance to the conference.
Taking place over two days, the conference featured a line-up of distinguished guest speakers. Among them were the Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Chief Economist and Economic Policy Adviser to the Vice President, Jared Bernstein, and environmental luminary and founder of Green for All, Van Jones.
A sea of suits and folks in assorted business casual ensembles gathered at tables piled with laptops and the latest consensus-building software designed to allow participants to cast votes anonymously–millennials are, after all, a tech-savvy generation.
The participants set the agenda on the first day of the conference through a lengthy consensus process. That night, summaries of the day’s proceedings were written up. The next day, after rallying remarks from some of Washington’s most inspiring voices, they were set loose on Capitol Hill to make their voices heard to their representatives.