No Generation Without Representation

No Generation Without Representation

Biden and Harris relied on youth support during the election. It’s time for the administration to support them back.

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Many of President Biden’s executive orders have focused on issues central to young people: climate change, education, racial justice, gun violence prevention, voting rights, and more. While these policy rollouts are a welcome sign, young people, informed by their experiences, must also be involved in the creation and implementation of these policies.

The youngest generations have been uniquely impacted by the pandemic. Forced to pivot to online learning, students have had to adapt in real time to unprecedented changes in their education and lives and face undue risk when their institutions require them to be back on campus. Many young people, students or not, have confronted unemployment, fewer job opportunities, and general uncertainty because of the economic downturn presaged by the pandemic. Despite this, there remain no meaningful levers of representation for young Americans—that is, people under the age of 40—in policy-making. This systemic lack of sustained, youth-specific roles across the federal government limits young people’s agency and makes them feel undervalued.

Unless young people are stakeholders in federal agencies—which means going beyond simply listening to their struggles to enable them to actively shape policy—any proposal will never fully reflect their perspectives. Without youth input, it’s unlikely that our government could build systems that feel like they are truly responding to their needs.

YouthInGov, a coalition made up of over 100 youth organizations across the political spectrum that represents over 5 million young people from every corner of the country, is responding to this lack of representation. The coalition includes organizations such as Sunrise Movement, March for Our Lives, NAACP Youth, and College, 18by Vote, Student Voice, The Next 50, NextGen America, Planned Parenthood, and more. Created by youth organizers following the 2020 election, YouthInGov has called on the Biden-Harris administration to pass an executive order to meaningfully reflect young people across the Executive Branch. The executive order outlines the creation of the Office of Young Americans within the Executive Office of the President, a federal agency working group, and an Advisory Council composed of 12 diverse young-American-led organizations.

Covid-19 vaccination hesitancy is just one of the many issues that an Office of Young Americans could tackle. A recent STAT-Harris Poll found that 21 percent of Generation Z said they would not receive a vaccination. Another 34 percent said they would “wait awhile and see” before getting vaccinated. Similarly, an NBC-Morning Consult poll found that 26 percent of Gen Z said they would not get the vaccine. As we approach this next critical phase of the vaccination process, reaching young people must be a top priority to ensure we can reach herd immunity. Much of the hesitancy from young people comes from a lack of information. There are not enough resources dedicated to inform them, especially not using platforms they frequent or in a tone that feels authentic. Appointing a director of youth engagement to oversee the Office for Young Americans and sit on the Domestic Policy Council could provide this kind of necessary infrastructure.

Young people are significantly more politically engaged than they were a decade ago, as evinced in last November’s record-breaking voter turnout, specifically among Black, Indigenous and other nonwhite youth. It is clear that they played a crucial role in paving the way to victory for President Biden and Vice President Harris, and that their support has lasted through their first 100 days. A recent Harvard IOP poll found that 59 percent of young voters approve of the president’s performance. But despite being a strong base of support, young people continue to be denied real mechanisms of representation across the federal government. From the fight for women’s suffrage, to desegregation to gay marriage, youth movements have fundamentally changed our political landscape by pushing our country on key social issues. We should acknowledge the significant role that young people have played in our country’s history by giving them a real mechanism for change.

The pandemic has laid bare some unacceptable truths: our country does not always provide equal opportunity and resources to our young people or to the issues they value most. Whether your concern is economic justice, democracy and civic engagement, immigrant rights, or climate change, this is the moment to imagine and build a new America for the next generation. Investing and empowering one of America’s greatest assets, its young people, is essential in building a more just country and world. Now, almost halfway through his first year as president, Biden must go a step further in engaging young people to ensure their support and affirm their stakes as decision-makers.

Last fall, the Biden-Harris administration benefited from young Americans who turned out in record numbers supporting their ticket. If this administration recognizes the value of partnering with young Americans and achieving real progress on many of the priorities laid out in the first six months, it will take immediate action to recognize young people as not just beneficiaries but full-fledged partners in building back a better country for all.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
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