America’s Youth Have a Problem

America’s Youth Have a Problem

According to over a dozen student journalists, these are some of the most important issues facing the US, including climate change, health care, child labor, and LGBTQ+ rights.


In March, a poll from The Wall Street Journal and NORC found that just 23 percent of people under 30 found patriotism to be “very important” to them, compared to 60 percent of those 65 and older. But what’s the biggest issue facing the country? For young people, there isn’t a clear answer.

According to a survey from Deloitte, around half of Generation Z and millennials are living paycheck to paycheck, a plurality work multiple jobs, and over a third say that they feel stressed “all or most of the time.” America’s youth have a problem: The country is waging a war against them. Republicans are banning books, blocking gender-affirming care, and bringing back child labor. The Supreme Court has ruled against affirmative action and student loan cancellation. Since 2018, there have been over 150 school shootings across the country, and legislators have no good ideas on how to stop them.

For the Fourth of July, we asked a dozen StudentNation writers to discuss what matters to them most.

To say that the economy is the biggest issue facing the country is something of a cliché. But if you ask the average voter, it consistently ranks as their top priority.

Its endurance reflects a sharply obvious reality: The economy no longer works for most Americans, who continue to express increasing pessimism for their economic security. Since the 1980s, the ultra-wealthy have hoarded larger concentrations of wealth and now own more than the entire middle class. Corporate profits, too, have reached atmospheric levels, all during a fatal pandemic and an attendant economic shutdown.

In last year’s State of the Union address, Biden lambasted corporations and the superrich for not paying their fair share, echoing the worker-friendly vigor of his party’s official platform. But, at a moment when he could build political momentum for a bolder wealth tax policy, Biden has only publicly committed to a modest 25 percent tax on all wealth over 100 million.

Republicans are more sly. Though they share Democrats’ rhetorical sympathy for the honest, struggling worker, Republicans shroud their language with culturally traditional and religious messaging, harking back to a nostalgic and retrievable past. What’s notably missing, however, is any material support for policies that actually help the working class, including a 15 dollar federal minimum wage, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, Medicare For All, and a wealth tax.

Understanding both parties’ failures to respond to an unjust economy means deciphering the elite interests that undergird them, from individual billionaires to corporations. If we want anything close to an economy “that works for everyone,” those interests will need to be dismantled—and that means giving back control of the economy to working people.

–Isaac Lozano

Stanford University

This year’s July Fourth celebrations come less than a month after Canadian wildfire smoke blanketed the Northeastern US skies and now wreaks havoc on the Midwest. Of course, the accelerating climate crisis isn’t an American-only issue; it’s a matter of global justice. But climate inaction remains, in many ways, a powerfully American phenomenon, propelled by the outsize influence of petro-corporate money and propaganda on US politics.

In June, a federal judge ruled that Oregon youth plaintiffs—several of whom have aged into adulthood since they first brought their case, Juliana v. United States—will finally get to lay bare the consequences of US climate delay and denial in a trial, as youth plaintiffs in a similar state-level proceeding in Montana did last week. The development comes amid an international surge in climate change-related legal momentum, from Swiss women suing their government in Europe’s top human rights court amid deathly European heat waves to the United Nations requesting an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on states’ climate obligations.

While the Biden Administration has taken critical measures to address the climate crisis, the United States has yet to reckon with the damage its singular legacy of carbon pollution has inflicted on the Global South or take sufficient steps to ensure that all Americans, including today’s youth and future generations, can realize the promise of liberty and justice for all on a healthy planet.

–Ilana Cohen

Harvard University

Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the Progressive era was the illegalization, and demonization, of child labor. For decades, children could be found toiling in American factories, mills, and mines. Pressured to work to support their families and lacking education, these children were forced into a life of manual labor, and often, an early grave. It took the work of muckraking reporters, labor rights activists, and sympathetic elected officials to bring this practice to an end, creating laws like the Keating Owen Child Labor Act to rein in corporations and criminalize their child workforce.

Except, there is a movement overtaking the United States to erase the victories that took centuries to win. Groups like the Foundation for Government Accountability have crafted bills loosening child labor protections, and the same laws are being introduced in statehouses throughout the US. The funding behind these groups is always the same: billionaires waging a multifront war against labor protections. It’s incumbent on all of us to fight against these laws. If we don’t, we’ll be abandoning America’s youth and reopening a darker chapter in American history.

–Zurie Pope

University of Cincinnati

The distribution of power–which more often than not translates to the distribution of wealth–is the biggest problem facing the US today. From health care, gun violence, climate change, civil rights, and more, the disproportionalities are rooted in America’s deepening class divide.

When a few billionaires control the market, driving the economy and the consumers themselves, how are we to believe that democracy is being upheld? When corporations control not just the aisles of grocery stores, but policy itself, how can our politics be by and for the people? When our politicians bail out monopolies and millions can’t put food on the table, we are told it’s because the people are “lazy” and “don’t work.” How does one man ethically earn a billion dollars? Does he truly work harder than those working multiple minimum wage jobs?

America’s existing social order is becoming increasingly more dire. For Americans who feel defeated, inferior, and lost in this pit of work, remember: Revolutions are made up of ‘ordinary people like you and me.

–Aina Marzia

Young Women’s STEAM Research and Preparatory Academy

The biggest issue facing our country today is the Democratic Party’s unflinching allegiance to neoliberal capitalism. Any lip service paid to progressivism is fluff. They’re not here to put up meaningful opposition to Republicans or fight for the people; instead, their place in American politics is to preserve capitalism, socioeconomic hierarchy and the status quo, to the utter detriment of the working class and minorities. While the Democrats gladly embody a progressive veneer to win votes, especially from young people, the party establishment immediately sheds the aesthetic once it’s time to fight for progressive values.

Despite their disdain for the Left and the working class, we still have to vote for Democrats, thanks to the futility of third parties and the fascism festering in the Republican Party. They know this; they will never push left or uphold progressive values because the political landscape is so hellish that progressives have no other choice but to vote for them. Until the Democrats decide to prioritize the people over their wealthy campaign donors, we will continue shuffling to the ballot box every other year, crossing our fingers that fascism won’t win the day this time.

–Kennith Woods

Southeastern Louisiana University

The country is splitting apart at its blue-and-red seams. It’s clear by now that American partisanship is becoming increasingly polarized. Not only have Republican and Democratic politicians grown more distinct from each other, but each group has also grown more internally cohesive, according to a Pew Research Center study.

At the same time, these distinctive political beliefs are becoming a backbone of Americans’ identities. Those who are in your party are like you, and those in the other party are different; worse, they’re your enemy.

Republicans and Democrats don’t want to talk politics with each other. They don’t want to date each other. They don’t even want to live near each other. And not interacting with or being around people with different beliefs, avoiding engaging with people that don’t think in the same way, all makes the divide worse.

Politicians are even more polarized than individual Americans. In recent years, we’ve seen partisan gridlock again and again, and it’s not likely to improve anytime soon. When the political differences which define us grow further apart, legislation doesn’t get passed and extremist groups have more leverage.

So how do we solve this? Focusing on policy itself, not the party attached to it. Standing against hatred and bigotry spread within one’s own party. Coming together for something bigger. Inter-party connections made outside of politics, and increased empathy.

This doesn’t mean ignoring our values in favor of compromise. We can fight for what we believe in while still acknowledging our opponents’ humanity. We’ve seen this tension, anger, and rapidly increasing propensity towards violence before, and we need to stop it sooner rather than later. After all, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

–Nadia Scharf

Indiana University

Health care spending in the United States surged to 4.3 trillion dollars in 2021. While there’s no price tag on life, that doesn’t justify skyrocketing health care prices and surging medical debt.

While it’s easy to look toward private equity and its increasing influence in health care, even the nonprofit hospital systems have been rocked by scandals. By law, nonprofit hospitals are required to offer free or discounted care to low-income patients. But that has not stopped certain players from creating barriers. Executives at Providence, one of the nation’s biggest nonprofit hospital systems, developed a program to pressure low-income patients to pay—even the ones eligible for free care. Another nonprofit, Allina Health System, rejects patients with unpaid medical debt (while accepting $266 million in tax cuts from its nonprofit status in 2020).

Nearly 20 percent of emergency department visits lead to a surprise bill. While the No Surprises Act signals progress, it still does not cover surprise billing by ground ambulances.

Meanwhile, when Minnesota tried to propose a health affordability bill, Mayo Clinic fought back by threatening to move $4 billion in new hospital investments from the state.

The United States is lucky to have some of the world’s most advanced medical technology. But you shouldn’t have to go broke trying to access it.

–Kayla Yup

Yale University

In June, the Florida government shipped 36 asylum seekers to Sacramento with the false promise that they would be provided jobs—an act that California Attorney General Rob Bonta called “state-sanctioned kidnapping.” When a boat carrying 750 refugees and migrants capsized in the Mediterranean, they were treated with less urgency than the missing 5-person sub touring the Titanic. The capsize was one of deadliest shipwrecks on the Mediterranean in years, with only 104 people rescued alive.

Approximately 11 million people live in the United States as undocumented immigrants. Additionally, over half a million people are protected under the Deferred Program for Childhood Arrivals program, a temporary stop-gap measure that gives these immigrants very minimal support—like the right to vote—without granting full citizenship. This country’s treatment of migrants and refugees is a hugely pressing issue because it allows for them to constantly be treated as second-class, and leads to the devaluing of human life—as we’ve seen multiple times in the last month alone.

If we ever want to live up to this country’s stated goal of liberty and justice for all, we must turn to those who are most vulnerable, and reckon with our country’s treatment of migrants.

–Itzel Luna

Stanford University

This April, President Joe Biden announced an executive order ensuring environmental justice to be the responsibility of “every single federal agency.” And there’s a very good reason why.

At its core, environmental injustice in the United States amplifies existing disparities. The issue has disproportionately burdened marginalized communities with exposure to toxic waste, air pollution, and the detrimental impacts of climate change for decades. In addition to leaving affected communities—predominantly made up of low-income brown and black residents—more vulnerable to the Covid-19 pandemic, many face higher rates of respiratory illnesses, cancer, and developmental disorders.

As a result of decades of redlining or racial housing discrimination, 45 million Americans breathe dirtier air, exposed to pollution particles associated with lung disease, heart disease, and premature death. Flint, Michigan residents are still suffering residual effects of the water crisis that occurred over nine years ago, with one in four children exhibiting elevated blood-lead levels—a rate three times higher than what it was 10 years ago.

Resulting health care costs that come with these outcomes create intergenerational financial burdens that exacerbate the economic instability marginalized groups face, intensifying racial and social inequities. A solution from the Biden Administration requires bold policy changes and inclusive decision-making that target the systemic barriers that perpetuate environmental injustice.

–Meher Bhatia

Cornell University

In just a few decades, the Arctic will be ice-free and one-third of plant and animal life will be facing extinction. My generation has grown up under blood red skies, but there is little care from the supposedly “pro-climate” Democrats to avert this slow apocalypse.

The pollution of the environment is inseparably linked to the domination of workers. As president, Biden has approved 6,430 oil drilling permits, crushed striking rail workers, and helped block lawsuits against the company responsible for the East Palestine disaster.

The same markets pillage ecosystems exploit labor, and will not stop climate change. Confronting climate change means reducing economic models incompatible with nature and transitioning to a more worker-friendly—and thus, inherently climate positive—paradigm.

The working class and marginalized communities that will feel the climate consequences first—and hardest—know what is best for their communities. Young people are keenly aware of these truths as we organize our workplaces and march for climate relief. Only by truly addressing climate change will we be able to live and labor with dignity.

–Porter Wheeler

University of Oregon

The political calculus of the Republican Party is clear: attack gender-affirming health care, flame the so-called “culture war,” rally the base, and consolidate power.

Republicans have doubled down on this strategy with over 400 anti-trans bills proposed in 2023. The intensification of these attacks is no accident, but follows the blueprint of their anti-abortion efforts and last year’s Dobbs decision by attempting to create a new regime of gendered surveillance.

How the United States treats its most marginalized better reflects its values than any empty statement from its politicians. Unfortunately, the country’s disregard for trans youth is not just impacting politics domestically, but is also affecting trans rights in Europe. Recently, the NHS announced it would be limiting access to gender-affirming health care for children and young adults “pending further research.” The move was widely regarded as an attempt to appease the British rightwing who share a political playbook with the United States. The Republican Party must remember the dangers of vilifying and attacking an entire class of people.

–Theia Chatelle

Yale University

On June 29, the Supreme Court released their ruling against affirmative action. At its core, affirmative action is about the pursuit of fairness in our society, helping to level the playing field for underrepresented students.

According to the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, elementary and secondary schools with large numbers of black and Hispanic students are more likely to have inexperienced teachers, low-quality instructional materials, and inadequate facilities. Still, despite being disadvantaged, Hispanic and Black students take the same admission college tests as students from other races.

Is adding more spots and eliminating admission tests enough to support the education of Black and Hispanic students? It’s a possible solution, but it’s not enough.

Poverty is one of the most challenging obstacles, and the 2021 report shows that Hispanic and Black races are the poorest in America.  Affirmative action increases the number of Black and Hispanic students at many colleges and universities. Still, even with affirmative action, Blacks and Hispanics are more underrepresented at top colleges than 35 years ago.

To make our society more just for the most vulnerable, we must continue fighting for marginalized groups’ ability to pursue higher education.

–Yamila Martinez

Hunter College

A little over a month ago, a coalition of civil rights organizations, including the largest LGBTQ+ rights organization, issued a travel advisory for my home state of Florida. The coalition—which included the Human Rights Campaign, the NAACP, the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Equality Florida, and the League of United Latin American Citizens—argued that new policies by the Republican-controlled legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis could be harmful to immigrants, marginalized individuals, and queer people visiting the state.

DeSantis has recently positioned himself as a presidential hopeful and alternative to Trump, and has attempted to woo Republican voters with a ceaseless array of legislation curtailing the rights of the state’s young people and marginalized communities. Young, trans and queer Floridians are being especially targeted by the state’s recent measures, which include sweeping restrictions on gender-affirming care, the much-criticized “Don’t Say Gay” law, and a (currently blocked) restriction on drag performances.

DeSantis joins much of the Republican party elite in forwarding a dangerous fear-mongering campaign against the LGBTQ+ community. This anti-democratic political rhetoric harms queer people at the same time as it actively threatens the rights of other marginalized communities.

–Sofia Andrade

Harvard University

We cannot address any of our social problems without the ability to protest. But the average American’s willingness to protest is limited—in part because we know that if we express discontent we run the risk of being beaten, jailed, shot, or surveilled by law enforcement. Implicitly or explicitly, the militaristic power of our police is an obstacle to dissent.

This problem isn’t new—black discontent has historically been met with with lynchings, shootings, military tanks, and even bombings. Similarly, American police have a long history of suppressing the discontent of labor movements. But today, militarization is becoming even more severe. And I mean “militarization” quite literally— by 2020, 65 percent of U.S. police departments had received leftover military equipment from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

U.S. police also use “civil asset forfeiture”—essentially, money taken from people during arrests—to buy equipment with little oversight. In 2014, The Washington Post reported that from 2008 to 2014, U.S. police departments spent $2.5 billion in civil asset forfeiture to buy items including armored personnel carriers and helicopters. In 2021, WBUR and ProPublica found that the Boston Police Department had spent $627,000 of civil asset forfeiture funds on a technology that allows them to “track cell phone location” of almost anyone “down to a particular room of a hotel or house.”

Police militarization is always justified by appeals to public safety. But in reality, such militarization assumes that most of us are potential threats. This has troubling implications for the freedom to protest; after all, when a threatening person expresses discontent, that discontent itself is viewed as a threat.

–Becca Cadenhead

Harvard University

Information is a scarce resource nowadays. Compared to the podcasts that transmit misinformation to millions, the self-amplifying pockets of conspiracy theories on Twitter and Facebook, and the shouting of cable news anchors, diligent journalism that offers precise information and crucial context seems like it’s barely perceptible.

We have offered a megaphone to those who are unknowledgeable or ill-intentioned, and the power to oversee it all to profit-driven tech companies. Through tweets and television monologues, information—even when accurate—is conveyed superficially without the context to provide true understanding. At the same time, the decline of local news outlets means that one-fifth of the country lacks reliable information about their community, a tragic development that has helped allow social media hysteria to dominate the narrative on everything from school boards to affordable housing projects. On the national level, the deluge of misinformation has made the result of a presidential election subject to violent disagreement and the possibility of a unified fight against climate change difficult to imagine.

Our trail markers have been turned upside down, our maps have been crossed out and redrawn, and our directions have been torn up into misleading pieces. Information has become scattered and disfigured, leaving us lost, confused, and susceptible to going down an errant path.

–Nicholas Miller

Brown University


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