By Russell Simmons and Maya Enista
The vast majority of Americans, including many policymakers at the highest levels of government, are still unaware of one of the most pressing economic issues facing our country. Many may think that everything newsworthy has been covered amidst the media firestorm surrounding foreclosures, banks, bailouts, and the stimulus packages that have consumed news cycle after news cycle in the last several months. Unfortunately, both in the media and among policy-makers, there is one group that has been unceremoniously overlooked.
The Millennial Generation, those born between 1976 and 1996, the heirs to our economic legacy and ultimately the bearers of our economic destiny, are being disproportionately affected by the crisis, but continue to go unnoticed. This is even though they face unemployment at a rate more than 8% higher than the national average, suffer under a crushing average of $27,000 in student loan, $2000 in credit card debt, and a healthcare crisis that leaves 30% of them without any insurance. In addition, as young people enter the workforce, they are being pitted against individuals with much more experience than they have for the same entry level jobs due to recent layoffs, making finding a job exponentially more difficult.
This perfect economic storm will have untold negative impacts if nothing is done by Congress to address these issues now by truly investing in the Millennial Generation.
The good news is that even as young people are being overlooked by the majority of policymakers, they are stepping up to the plate to take control of their own economic destinies. Millennials are on track to be the most civically and politically engaged generation ever.
Just recently Mobilize.org, the Student Association for Voter Empowerment (SAVE), the Roosevelt Institution, and a number of other youth organizations formed the "80 Million Strong for Young American Jobs" coalition, representing the collective voices of millions of Millennials. Its purpose: to give young people the tools they need to engage substantively with policymakers and propose solutions to these problems.
To this end, on Tuesday, 100 Millennials from across the country will convene in Washington, DC to partake in the "80 Million Strong for Young American Jobs" summit, where young people will develop collective solutions and federal legislation aimed at putting young people to work and launching our economy in a new direction. The ideas springing forth from this summit will be both revolutionary and full of promise. However, most impressive is the fact that that they will all be developed and proposed by engaged young people driven to be involved in making the policies that will define their economic futures.
The Millennial legislative agenda resulting from the summit will address several areas where Congress can act now to invest in young people. First, investing in "Mission Critical" jobs and training programs that will utilize new technologies ranging from the emerging green sector to increased online infrastructure and new frontiers in the healthcare industry. Second, creating volunteer-to-career pathways that will provide grants to young people working in unpaid local, state, and federal internships, so that Millennials can gain the experience they need to gain employment while staying afloat financially. And finally, funding programs to provide increased continuing education opportunities for new workers, and legislation that would provide an increased time frame for student loan repayments.
Hopefully, Congress takes heed of the rising chorus of Millennials calling for action in these increasingly important areas. It is time for our policymakers to invest in the generation that will define the future of our country, and in the process, help set America on the path to economic recovery.
Maya Enista is the CEO of Mobilize.org, a grassroots organization of Millennials dedicated to engaging young people in policymaking. Follow 80 Million Strong: twitter.com/@80ms