The Millennial State of the Union

Jan 31, 2011Hilary Doe

flag-150Young people are taking matters into their own hands and working to effect change across a number of issues.

This past Sunday would have been Franklin D. Roosevelt's 129th birthday. During this jobless recovery, we should remember that, beyond simply being the 32nd President of the United States, FDR was a fearless leader who redefined the role of government during our country's darkest hour. How? Roosevelt used an active government to create jobs, provide relief to disadvantaged citizens, build our country's infrastructure, win World War II, and, more broadly, address the needs of the American people. He advanced a values-laden, progressive vision for the everyday American.

Thousands of young people across the country are carrying on his legacy by putting forth their own progressive vision. The Roosevelt Institute Campus Network is releasing a New Deal for the Millennial America -- a blueprint for the progressive future that we, young people born between 1980 and 2000, are determined to inherit. Each generation designs its own path, and each American generation redefines the American dream. With the launch of the Campus Network's Blueprint for the Millennial America, the Millennial Generation is declaring their vision for America's future and imploring our leaders to take note, grab a shovel, and start building it with us.

So what will 2040 look if we have our way?
Over the past year, the Campus Network convened thousands of students from across the country in Think2040 conversations, asking them to define their vision, values, and priorities for our shared future. The results were compiled in our Blueprint for Millennial America. The report details how we plan to change the system from inside, employ ourselves, think long-term, and create a more equal, accessible, empowered, and community-minded 2040 America. Want specifics? In the Millennial America, our priorities are:

1. Educational Attainment

Our generation sees educational attainment as the key to opportunity and abundance. And we recognize that to remain competitive in the Next American Economy we will have to out-educate the rest of the world. Providing equal access to quality education is also a pathway to closing our country's growing wealth disparity. We need to improve K-12 education and increase college access and affordability to do that.

The best part? Millennials have already started moving toward this goal. Innovative young people, like Roosevelt Campus Network alum Kirsten Hill, have envisioned and implemented student-generated education programs like the SILA project. SILA (Students Improving Literacy Abound) is a university-partnered reading program in New Orleans that has paired over 100 Tulane students acting as mentors with second and third graders to decrease the achievement gap and increase literacy rates.

2. Green Living, Working, and Innovating

We recognize that to build a green economy, our generation will have to win the energy race with an effort that mirrors the Apollo program of the 1960s. The cost of fossil fuels is going to increase as countries like China and India compete for limited resources. We need to be innovation hawks and invest in green technology and infrastructure now to ensure that the windmills, solar panels, and fuel cells we use tomorrow are manufactured in the United States.

We need to cultivate healthier food systems. By supporting urban agriculture and other alternatives we can secure access to fresh and healthy food for all Americans. This will increase the security of our communities by ensuring that food comes from local sources.

Millennials aren't leaving their future to chance. We're creating a greener America today with a call for proposals to ensure our energy security and local movements to build community gardens, like the effort led at Arizona State University by Joshua Judd and other Roosevelt members.

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3. Wellness and Coverage

Our American Dream is more often a loft in the city with diverse people, food, culture, work, and a hybrid than a McMansion in the suburbs. It includes our wellness, and this New Deal for the Millennial America includes the guarantee that livable cities provide access to healthy food for all American people. The Millennial Generation -- the most under-insured of any alive right now -- also demands insurance coverage for all and innovative efforts to ensure access to preventative care.

We'll get there by 2040, starting with groundbreaking efforts to provide care to some of our most vulnerable. A Roosevelt member from Colorado College, David Silver, for example, is helping to pave the way to health care access for rural American using excess T.V. bandwidth to provide preventative care via "telehealth."

4. Entrepreneurship and a Social Safety Trampoline

Why are Millennials moving back to the forgotten places in America: post-industrial centers like Detroit, New Orleans, and Cleveland? So they can create a sweeping impact and experiment with new forms of entrepreneurship and social innovation. They are organizing employee-owned businesses, starting co-ops, and, in the case of Roosevelt alums Joe Shure and Rohan Mathew, creating successful nonprofits like the Intersect Fund to empower would-be entrepreneurs through microloans and start-up support.

But in order to pursue our innovative ideas, we need security; a flexible social safety net. And we need financial institutions that are responsive to their communities. Wages have stagnated. Benefits have decreased. As government protection of our social insurance has been cut over the last 30 years, the income inequality in our country has also significantly increased. Millennials demand equal access and equal opportunity. Our safety net should inject funding into the system when it's needed, provide retraining opportunities, ensure health care and unemployment insurance, and, instead of catching people near the bottom -- like a net -- function like a trampoline and bounce everyone back into high-functioning roles in society.

To reduce the socioeconomic gap in this country, everyone should pay taxes on their income, even if they make a lot of it -- their fair share. By just repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of Americans, we could move substantially closer to lowering the barrier to entrepreneurship by investing in a strong safety net and providing this essential economic security to all Americans.

5. America as a World Super-Partner

Millennials want the United States to continue to act as a global leader. But they envision the U.S. as a "super-partner" in world affairs. They favor a proactive U.S. foreign policy that stresses the use of "smart power" to achieve global security through active diplomacy, efficient development, and sharing defense responsibilities with its allies. Young people are already working to prove the effectiveness of this approach. Roosevelt member Jacob Helberg, for example, is working directly with Haitian NGOs to implement his idea to build a micro-community in Haiti reflective of the best practices learned by other nations.

If you're skeptical that our generation can accomplish all of this, we're working to prove you wrong. Because we're committed to fiscal responsibility in addition to the list of priorities above, we recognize that our priorities have the burden of cost, and, at a time when the nation is locked in heated debate over the budget, we're answering the call. While organizations from across the spectrum are rushing to put forth their plans, the Campus Network is designing our own ‘Budget for Millennial America' as we speak.

Want to help?
The greatest lesson to be learned from examining this list of Millennial values, priorities, and initiatives is that young people nationwide are prepared to design the innovative solutions and campaign for the change required to achieve our vision.

Do you have your own ideas for change? Contact one of our student policy strategists so that you can get involved in our national policy initiatives. Get published in our 10ideas series. You can even get paid to work with us over the summer in Washington, DC or Chicago through our Roosevelt Summer Academy program. We're designing and achieving the future that we want to inherit.

Thanks for paving the way, FDR. Happy Birthday, and we hope we're making you proud.

Hilary Doe is the National Director of the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network. Reese Neader is the Roosevelt Campus Network's Policy Director.

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