A wish list for millennials, as they come into their own
How are those resolutions coming? Though we may be knee-deep into 2014 if you're counting in attempted trips to the gym, in reality, it's still the early in a year that promises to be a busy one for Michigan, and millennials like myself have a number of hopes and expectations for the year. A full decade into adulthood, this generation is just beginning to make our mark, and our influence grows every year. Perhaps 2014 is a good time to start paying attention to what the impact could look like, and why.
Here are a few things Michigan millennials will be watching and planning for this year:
Shining a light on dark money. Happy election year! Our governor celebrated the occasion by quietly signing into law a bill that secures the anonymity of issue-ad donors and doubles campaign donor limits. By shifting the ability to influence politics from the rich to the richer, Snyder is shifting it away from the soon-to-be largest voting block in American history, who also happen to be highly sensitive to wealth inequality.
Millennials are trapped between monumental education debt and a job market still struggling to recover, creating a historic wealth inequality between us and baby boomers. Meanwhile the wealthy have grown wealthier, and now they can buy more power in Lansing.
My generation's most-feared consequence of the wealth gap is not that we won't get to buy the vacation homes our parents did, but the direct translation of all that unattainable money into political influence. It's nothing short of dystopian. Don't expect millennials to take this ever-darkening of political money lying down. Money does determine many elections, but not all of them. These are the circumstances that inspire people to fight back and vote against gobs of cash. So thanks for the inspiration, Governor.
Lower college costs with surplus. Woo-hoo! We have a surplus! We're rich! Well, Michigan apparently is, for the moment, but not us. The millennial "us" are still struggling with our average of $29,400 in student loans. How did we get here? Well, considering a bachelor's degree is a requirement to get pretty much any job over minimum wage and four years at Michigan State University now costs about $100,000, it's really no wonder at all.
The price of college must go down. Whether still in school or already graduated, millennials should hope every penny of the projected budget surplus goes to public universities. Even those of us for whom lowered college costs would come too late don't want to live with the economic results of more college grads sprinting into the job market with loan payments that suck up half their first decade of paychecks. Let them buy stuff like houses and lawnmowers and beer, and we'll all be better for it.
More women, please. The proportion of women to men in Michigan government is abysmal. Personally, it gives me a stomachache. It keeps me up nights. And I'm not alone.
Female millennials are not alone in their expectation that power will and should be evenly distributed between men and women. As authors and researchers Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais wrote in the National Journal, "The attitude of the millennial generation…that will have most impact on the daily lives of Americans is the distinctive and historically unprecedented belief that there are no inherently male or female roles in society."
Millennial men and women truly care about equality and government that is an accurate representation of the electorate. It's a good year to consider the impact predicted by Winograd and Hais, as we're bound to start making it apparent at the polls.
Marriage equality cometh. It was a frustrating day in October when a federal judge delayed ruling on the marriage equality case that could have opened the doors for everyone to marry his or her chosen partner. When the trial resumes in February, millennials will absolutely expect justice to prevail and marriage to become equal in our state. Polls show that a whopping 81 percent of adults 18-29 support marriage equality. Though it seems there's little we can do to make an impact before that point, if the ruling goes any other way, rest assured there will be action, and millennials will be in the throes of it.
Big, attractive, exciting ideas. While Michigan should be concerned with the demands of its own millennials, it should also be focused on how to attract those outside the state.
Nationwide, the economic development world is tripping all over itself to lure millennials with big ideas centered on incentivizing innovation and creating livable communities where young professionals want to call home.
Bear in mind that "livable" doesn't mean public art and high rises. Vocativ's recent livability index measured the best cities for people 35 and under, with measurements far more in tune with what millennials are looking for, such as internet access, music venues, public transportation and the average cost of living, including rent, groceries, and – ahem – beer.
Michigan is not without great ideas that address some of these criteria. A great example is the new Write-a-House program in Detroit that rewards resident writers with homeownership. It's a fabulous idea, and we need more of them. We need dozens of them. Because as much as older Michiganders may be tired of hearing about the demands of their own millennials, there's no doubt that in order to thrive, the state is going to need a lot more of us, this year and beyond.
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