A few days before the election, the divisive Affordable Care Act (ACA) is back in the headlines once again. According to new data from Enroll America, there was a steep drop in the number of uninsured Americans aged 18-34. The New York Times hailed millennials as some of "the biggest winners from the law."
Hidden in the spin is the fact that the law has barely made a dent with millennials; two-thirds of uninsured millennials remain uninsured. It's true that large government programs need time to raise awareness, but millennials are hyper-connected to news through technology and social networks. They know about the law. They know about the mandate to buy insurance or pay a fine.
They simply don't care.
Millennials are openly defying the government mandate and thumbing their noses at legislators who continue to ignore the issues critical to young Americans. They're fed up with government forcing them to pay for the poor financial decisions of previous generations.
In the recovery from the 2008-2009 recession, young Americans were left behind. Washington gave bailouts to real estate gamblers and the stagnant automotive industry, while millennials struggling with crushing student loan debt got a token reduction in interest rates. And now comes the ACA, extorting millennials into subsidizing seniors through insurance plans they don't want or need. For those younger than 26, they get coverage through their parents, but it's a band-aid rather than a cure. Minimum wage hikes and the institutionalization of unpaid internships are killing the post-graduation job market for young workers. In effect, their ability to gain financial independence is just pushed down the road.
Financial independence is hard to imagine for the 7-in-10 recent graduates with an average of nearly $30,000 in educational debt. It makes the ACA penalty -- up to one percent of their income -- a laughable expense for millennials. They don't have jobs to be taxed. And they know it's virtually unenforceable due to additions to the final ACA bill that restricted the ability of the IRS to collect. Failure to signup for health insurance isn't an oversight or an act of laziness. It's an act of outright rebellion.
Millennials have no fear of repercussions for defying the government. They make up 40 percent of America's unemployed. They would love to have health insurance, but they prioritize finding a job and gaining financial independence. It's insult to injury that the millennial unemployment rate is nearly twice that of Baby Boomers and yet the government wants healthy young workers to foot the tab for a healthcare system bankrupted by seniors.
As their prospects fail to improve and the "newspaper of record" deigns to call them winners, millennials are a swing voting bloc again, according to an unsurprising new study released by Harvard this week. Democrats' commanding lead with young voters has evaporated, a stunning development considering that President Barack Obama's 2008 victory was the largest landslide among young voters since exit polling began in 1972.
Millennials blame the party in the White House for their economic problems, the injustice of the healthcare law and the lack of respect for young people in Washington, DC. But that's reductive and likely to incite pundits on both sides to start a flame war that won't benefit millennials or anyone else. The truth is that neither party gives a crap about millennials except on Election Day. Young Americans don't have money or influence to offer. They don't yet have the life skills to outwit older generations. And they're too busy grasping for the bottom rung of the economic ladder to have the time or energy to fight entrenched political parties.
But floating to the political middle is not an act that can be dismissed as youthful disobedience. What they lack in dollars, millennials will soon make up in population. By 2020, millennials will comprise approximately half the workforce. And as they rapidly fill up urban centers, they'll transform cities into power bases that challenge long-standing geographic advantages used by politicians to stay in power.
Millennials are the entrepreneurial generation, born out of necessity and fostered by poor leadership in government. In higher and concentrated numbers in places like San Francisco, Austin and Portland, millennials will find new ways to disrupt flawed programs like the ACA and the electoral system in general. They've upended industries like the taxi and hotel industry with sharing economy darlings Uber and Airbnb, and now millennials have placed a bulls-eye on another industry that relies on precedent rather than innovation. Politics.
There's a long way to go before millennials recover economically, replace crooked politicians, create a third (and fourth) party, temper the disproportionate government spending on older generations, or revolutionize the voting process. But their open defiance of the Obamacare mandate may just be the turning point that signifies their readiness to really stand up to the U.S. government.