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80 Million Strong!

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By Matthew Segal, Caitlin Howarth and Maya Enista

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education (GIVE) Act yesterday by a vote of 321 to 105, a major victory for young people. Similar to its Senate companion, the Serve America Act, this bill will expand access to higher education by giving grants to students who engage in community service projects. It will more than triple the amount of volunteer opportunities from 75,000 to 250,000, expanding programs such as AmeriCorps and creating new components like the Clean Energy Corps. And it will build the momentum young Americans need to establish their economic future.

We must capture this energy, build off the committed advocacy that went into this legislation, and continue our progress. Young Americans must convince Congress to connect this new era of service to a new era of prosperity, one in which our generation will innovate the marketplace, pay off our national debt, and provide for our parents, grandparents and future families.

Now is the time to push, while the talk of the nation is jobs. From slogans like "jobs baby jobs" on the campaign trail to the nearly one trillion dollar jobs-creating stimulus package, getting people back to work is clearly a leading American priority. Yet there is a disparity when it comes to young Americans, who currently face some of the most staggering unemployment rates of any age group. According to the latest Bureau of Labor statistics, 15.5 percent of young people ages 16-24 are unemployed, putting them 8.6 percent behind the rest of the nation's workforce. The Kaiser Family Foundation has found that young people have an uninsured rate of 30 percent, the highest for any age group. And when they do find a job, young people are far more likely to hold one that pays below a living wage and lacks health insurance and even a basic retirement plan; in 2005, those 18 to 34 held 40.8 percent of these "bad jobs," and only 14.1 percent of the "good jobs" with fair pay and basic benefits.

This inequality among age groups is even more distressing in light of the fact that the Millennial generation (Americans born between 1980 and 2000) is the most widely educated and technologically adept demographic in history. Nearly 87 percent of all Millennials possess a high school diploma and nearly 30 percent hold a bachelors degree or more. Yet the overall market value of this education has been on the decline since 2000, whereas tuition rates and debt are on the rise, now exceeding an average of 27,000 dollars for undergraduate debt. Those who incur the highest debt are also the least likely to complete their degree. The promise of a college education is compromised, and debt levels cripple our generation's financial health.

Yet the faces of the unemployed are seldom portrayed as young. We see images of laid-off, middle-aged workers, but we seldom hear our politicians or press refer to young people. In a twenty-minute address at the Democratic House Caucus Retreat on Thursday, February 5, President Obama did not mention young people once. He routinely mentioned the middle-class families in need of protection and assistance, and rightly so; but he never discussed the young members of the workforce who are also at great risk. Vice President Biden's Middle Class Task Force has also not publicly explored our generation's unique financial difficulties.

There may be many reasons for this, but a lack of young advocates on Capitol Hill is a particularly salient one. Without strong advocates, this generation will continue to be underserved by policy solutions. This cannot remain the status quo. The Student Association for Voter Empowerment (SAVE), Mobilize.org, and the Roosevelt Institution are convening a coalition and summit entitled 80 Million Strong for Young American Jobs, named for the 80 million members of our Millennial generation, each and every one of whom deserves a decent, quality job. We will assemble a diverse group of young Americans--low income and high income, students and non-students, urban and rural, male and female--to discuss the overarching problem of youth unemployment and to, most importantly, propose bold and innovative solutions. Some proposals may build new plans for entrepreneurship. Others will utilize technological savvy. Still others will help turn part-time volunteers into full-time public servants. The best of these plans and recommendations will be packaged, proposed, and lobbied in Congress this summer by the Millennials themselves.

Please visit www.80millionstrong.org to join the coalition and send your ideas and comments to info@80millionstrong.org.

Matthew Segal is the executive director of the Student Association for Voter Empowerment
Caitlin Howarth is the national policy director of the Roosevelt Institution
Maya Enista is the chief executive officer of Mobilize.org