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New Poll gives voice to Millennials

POSTED: November 11, 2011, 12:00 am

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A new poll commissioned by Demos, aptly titled “The State of Young America,” provides an interesting view of the thoughts of so-called “Millennials,” the 18 to 24 year old population. The poll conducted by Lake Research Partners and Bellwether Research and Consulting, captures the outlook of this population on the economy, higher education, health care and wellness, and quality of life issues. The results suggest the debate on Capitol Hill is not reflective of the true concerns of our nation’s emerging population.

Disturbingly the polls finds that a plurality of young adults (48 percent) believe their generation may fare worse than their parents. Among African-Americans, 40 percent are pessimistic of a better future than their parents and 31 percent believe that they will be better off. Still, 77 percent still believe in the American Dream. It is this dichotomy that makes this poll a fascinating snapshot of our nation’s future.

Politically, African-Americans overwhelmingly (70 percent) identified as Democrats, as did 44 percent of Latinos but whites were evenly split (34 percent) in their identification as Democrats or Republicans. In terms of their commitment to civic engagement, 56 percent of 18-24 year-old respondents indicated their intention to vote in next year’s presidential election and 64 percent of 25-34 year-olds expressed the same commitment.

“The results suggest the debate on Capitol Hill is not reflective of the true concerns of our nation’s emerging population.”

As the country comes to terms with the effects of a historic economic downturn, jobs remain a critical issue for the Millennial population. About half of the unemployed Millennial population is actively looking for work and that includes 65 percent of African-Americans. As work becomes scarce, many young adults with credentials are looking for work outside of their chosen profession. Tellingly, 66 percent of African-Americans and 53 percent of Latinos are less likely to hold jobs within their chosen fields compared to 40 percent of white workers. Minorities are also more likely to be in a union or prefer a unionized workplace, with 56 percent of African-Americans currently in a union or would be if available, compared to 37 percent of whites.

There is also a clear income disparity within this population. More than two-thirds of African-Americans (69 percent) and Latinos (67 percent) reporting incomes below $30,000 compared to 55 percent of young whites. Young people cited higher education as the path to getting ahead in the economy; an important point considering the current debate on education reform and the abysmal high school completion rates of Black and Latino students. Among the 18-24 age group, 55 percent of Latinos and 43 percent of African-Americans hold the view that higher education and training are the keys to success in today’s economy. Against that viewpoint, the reality of the economy has also affected decisions to pursue higher education among Millennials. Overall, 38 percent of respondents under age 35 indicated they have delayed starting or continuing college or additional training because of current economic conditions, and African-Americans and women (42 percent) are most impacted. More than half of the population is worried about affording college or training. Most worried are African-Americans, with 44 percent of Blacks very worried about their ability to afford a higher education.

Increasingly, young adults are frustrated over their current economic situation and say they are having a hard time meeting basic costs of living. How bad are things for this population? The poll reveals that 30 percent of young people have are more than $10,000 in personal debt and 70 percent have found it harder to make ends meet over the past four years. Twenty-four percent of African-Americans owe less than $1,000 and 35 percent owe between $5,000 and $50,000. More than half report their personal financial situation as just fair with 41 percent describing it as good. Latinos (60 percent) are most frustrated, followed closely by African-Americans (55 percent) and whites (50 percent).

Minorities also expressed concern over their future aspirations, with 56 percent of African-Americans indicating they have delayed purchasing a home. Overall, on average, African-Americans and Latinos are worried more than whites on every issue, and African-Americans were most worried about being able to afford to send their children to college.

Millennials do express some clear policy preferences, and the poll indicates young adults want Congress to focus on jobs, education, and making certain that Social Security is available for their generation. A large majority (81 percent) say creating jobs and growing the economy should be the top priority for Congress, and 68 percent identify making college affordable as the top priority. Affordable education was particularly important to African-Americans (91 percent) consistent with concerns over the ability to provide college access for their children. The least popular priority was cutting entitlements to reduce the federal deficit, and entitlement cuts were very unpopular among women.

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