This piece comes to us courtesy of Generation Progress, where it originally appeared.
As millions of young Americans eagerly await President Obama’s State of the Union address tomorrow night, Generation Progress asked Millennials what issues mattered most and what they want to see fixed in 2014.
From this data, we have compiled the top eight actions that our generation feels President Obama should address in his State of the Union.
As he steps up to the podium Tuesday night, Millennials in every state will be watching, listening for President Obama’s solutions to fix the growing income inequality crisis in America, as well as many other issues.
So as Obama departs from the White House en route to the U.S. Capitol, here are the eight actions Millennials want him to have on his mind during that car ride.
1. Solutions to our student debt crisis.
President Obama gets it. Last year, he signed the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act that saved 11 million student about $15 billion via lowered interest rates, providing stability to young Americans and their families.
However, 40 million Americans still hold more than $1.2 trillion in education debt, which has created economic insecurity and pushed borrowers out of the middle class. Millennials want to see President Obama call for ways to address this crisis, which could include refinancing legislation for student loans.
Here’s why young Americans told us they want the State of the Union to address the student debt crisis:
“Because student loans are interfering with economic recovery, and I am having to wait to have kids and buy a house with my large debt load.”
“I am a 34-year-old with $143,000 in student loan debt. I can only get part-time work and never see myself getting out of this debt. This does not help the economy and this is the case of millions of Americans who will never help build the economy.”
“I make an effort by paying all my loans every two weeks. If something happens to my car, I don’t have the money needed to fix it or buy a new car. I would love to buy a condo or townhouse but student loans are in the way of any major purchase.”
“I am a recent graduate, and I know many people saddled with student debt. Refinancing loans would ease the debt burden. In addition, college was a huge cost for me, even though I attended an in-state school.”
2. Create a fair economy that shrinks the income inequality gap by raising the minimum wage to $10, maintains federal government programs like unemployment benefits, expands the U.S. apprenticeship system, supports young entrepreneurs to create new businesses, and reinvests in national service programs like AmeriCorps.
Young Americans face the highest levels of unemployment and underemployment. That’s not cool.
As the economy continues to recover from the Great Recession, Millennials are a demographic of the American public that has suffered the greatest hit to economic independence with low minimum wage jobs or no job at all.
Some key actions President Obama could address in his speech include raising the minimum wage—workers between the ages of 16 to 34 account for 70.9 percent of those earning the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 or less. An increase to $10 would lessen that burden for millions of Millennials.
Young Americans agree that the FAMILY Act needs passed because it guarantees paid family and medical leave, which young families need to care for their children and elderly parents.
Here’s why young Americans want the State of the Union to address programs that create a fair economy:
“Raise the minimum wage to help people get a fair wage for a day of work, build up the economy, and if I can’t get a job in my field then maybe I could grab a minimum wage job and start paying back my loans.”
“I’m disgusted by the level of income inequality in this country. By having a more fair economy, all Americans will be better off. Also, this is a very important issue because it is a root cause of other issues such as student debt and health care.”
3. Every state needs to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), so young Americans can purchase affordable health care plans with subsidies Medicaid provides via the law.
With the open enrollment period of Obamacare at the half way mark, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released enrollment numbers that indicated 79 percent of Americans have received discounts on their health care plans under Medicaid expansion.
The reason we are not at 100 percent?
Here’s why young Americans want the State of the Union to address expanding Medicaid in every state so all Millennials have access to affordable health care via subsidies through the ACA:
“We need to push for quality health care for everyone. The only reason it is failing to some extent is that some are out to sabotage it.”
“Due to provisions in the law (i.e. extension of parents’ benefits to children up to age 26) my son was able to take advantage of the opportunity he wanted. He has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams professionally and financially due to the choices provided him by the law.”
4. Invest in green jobs while addressing the effects of climate change.
Whether its more female farmers plowing the fields throughout the Midwest or guerrilla gardeners in New York City, green careers are trending with Millennials.
As a viable way to stimulate employment for young Americans, an investment in green jobs is a solid solution that would benefit not only the economy but also the environment.
Here’s why young Americans want the State of the Union to address creating green jobs and other climate change issues:
“Green jobs add to the world not just in terms of employing someone but also by allowing for a healthier, more sustainable, and natural way of existence to be possible.”
“Climate change caused largely by the activity of Americans, affects the entire Earth. In order to make an impact, big changes need to be made in the way we live. If it is not addressed, we will not have a home to live in and the other issues won’t matter.”
5. Enact common-sense gun legislation such as mandatory background checks, which 90 percent of Americans want.
Newtown, Conn. students have lobbied Congress to pass common-sense gun legislation after a school shooting took the lives of numerous community members. And even members of Congress have provided their support, such as Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) who encouraged Millennials to keep pushing Congress for said legislation.
As childhood gun deaths have risen 60 percent since 1997, some states are stepping into to protect their communities instead of waiting for Congress to act. Take Connecticut for example, which enacted common-sense gun legislation that its citizens wanted and support.
The federal government must step in, though, for all 50 states as gun sales have become less regulated due to an increase in social media practices, such as Instagram.
Americans want common-sense gun legislation, so President Obama and Congress need to listen and act.
Here’s why young Americans want the State of the Union to address common-sense gun legislation that prevent gun violence:
“Considering my son is a gun shot survivor. No longer a victim because he survived. At 7 years old, he was struck in the head by a stray bullet. Now at 12 years old, his is an activist against gun violence as well as raising awareness in his community. While lobbying for universal background checks, it’s not just a community issue, it’s a worldwide problem that needs a solution.”
“There have been 35 school shootings since Newtown. I live in Newtown and the fact that Congress has not done anything to further protect our people from guns is disgraceful. We can’t ignore this problem if we want to have a future. How many school shootings will it take until Congress realizes that gun violence can affect anyone, anywhere. We must stop this epidemic.”
6. Pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
Obama wanted to sign it into law before 2013 ended and has made his support public knowledge multiple times. States such as California has taken the lead where the federal government has failed by passing many laws that benefit Millennials.
Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg even hosted a DREAMer hackathon to call for immigration reform.
It’s clear young Americans want to see the country’s immigration laws reformed as it strengthens families throughout the country.
Here’s why young Americans want the State of the Union to address comprehensive immigration reform:
“Immigration reform is needed to jump start progress and ensure that the terror of places like tent city can end, as well as making citizenship more easily accessible.”
“Immigration reform is something that I’ve always discussed with my parents. It is on of the most important issues this country is facing.”
“Immigration reform matters the most because I am an immigrant.”
7. Protect Americans’ voting rights.
It’s a basic right guaranteed to all Americans, which is why Obama must address it in his speech.
Here’s why young Americans want the State of the Union to address the voter ID laws that are hindering many Americans right to vote:
“Voting rights are perhaps most important because without it the nation will become one free of democracy, voting rights effect many of the marginalized and oppressed groups mentioned in the other categories, so I think voting rights reform would pave a path for other reforms in the future.”
“State governors and legislators are working to disenfranchise non-white voters in a very public and shameless way. This is a time bomb waiting to go off in the form of an un-elected tyrant protected by the rich ruling class.”
8. Protect LGBTQ Millennials’ rights by passing the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), expanding marriage equality to all 50 states, and addressing the crisis of LGBTQ youth homelessness.
President Obama supports marriage equality and is the first sitting president to do so, which has most certainly hailed the increase of the total number of states recognizing marriage equality—18 plus the District of Columbia to be exact.
The Supreme Court has also protected the rights of LGBTQ Americans by declaring the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional last year.
However, millions of LGBTQ Americans are facing discrimination throughout the country, so President Obama needs to address this in his speech by praising the Senate for passing ENDA (which protects LGBTQ employees from being fired based on their sexual orientation or gender identity) and calling on the House of Representatives to do the same.
Additionally, the U.S. has seen an increase in the number of homeless LGBTQ youth, which has displaced them from their homes and left them to live on the streets. This is unacceptable and our country needs to assist these young Americans to ensure they have a roof over their head and food on the table to eat.
Here’s why young Americans want the State of the Union to address discrimination against LGBTQ Millennials by passing ENDA, recognizing the states with marriage equality while calling for federal marriage equality laws, and providing help to the many LGBTQ homeless youth in America:
“LGBTQ rights are important because everyone deserves equality.”
There are a plethora of pressing issues our elected officials should address that span the spectrum of ensuring economic justice, defending civil and human rights, and protecting our democracy.
These eight actions represent key issues the 90 million Millennials in America want to see in President Obama’s 2014 agenda and State of the Union. For more on these and other issues, head over to our YouTube page to see more responses from young Americans.
Douglas Bair is the Associate Editor for Generation Progress. You can follow him on Twitter @douglas_bair.