Young in America

Last week I celebrated my 21st birthday. For all that has changed in our world over the past 100 years, turning 21 remains a significant milestone for young people and for the outside world. It's become a sort of running joke among many of my friends that we are now getting "old." We've now come to the realization we finally have to get serious about our future.

All kidding aside, this is a seemingly bleak time to come of age in America; we are in the midst of a massive economic crisis, we face a crisis in our health care system, we face mounting deficits and national debt, and we face a collapsing social security system which has the potential to saddle our generation with an enormous burden. Not to mention that we're all looking for jobs in one of the worst job markets in recent history. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics earlier this month, the youth unemployment rate (for 16-24 year olds) stands at 18.2%, the highest it has been since 1983. For graduating college students you can add to this equation huge student loans with soaring interest rates, not to mention credit card debt which has hit young people particularly hard. And this is happening right now, all at once.

By most indicators young people are the most adversely affected age group by the economic crisis, the most at risk when it comes to health care coverage, and the deepest in debt. Although we have our whole life ahead of us to deal with these challenges, it's not in anyone's interests for us to spend the rest of our lives paying these debts off and living with these challenges. In short, this could be one of the most difficult periods of time in history to be young. If that is the case, there has never been a generation better suited for the challenge.

This isn't a generation of whiners. This isn't a generation of do-nothings. It is a generation that is deeply invested in a better future. We are already fighting for our economic health, young people who have come together in coalitions like 80 Million Strong (18 in '08 is a member of the coalition) which convened a summit this summer to figure out ways to create jobs for young people. And this November young people will again convene at a summit co-hosted by and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation which will award grants to young people with innovative ideas for how to secure our generation's fiscal health. While not everyone in the millennial generation is this loud (there are after all 80 million of us), there are many champions like these who are standing up and fighting for everyone in this generation.

Just this week, our generation disproved the pundits who said we were sitting on the sidelines of the health care debate, as a coalition of over 20 youth groups gathered in Washington. Standing with the Speaker of the House, they announced the fruits of their hard work: adding a whole new cohort of uninsured young people to those who would be covered under the proposed house health care bill.

We see it in the surging interest in entrepreneurism and innovative approaches to solving problems from energy alternatives to new socially conscious business models. As old jobs are disappearing, young people are creating the foundations for a new economy with these new sectors.

All of these factors present a unique opportunity for this generation to prosper, not become the so-called "Lost generation" or victims of the economic crisis. Some might say that it's the worst time to be young with such bleak conditions on the surface, but with the kind of spirit and mentality that is present in the millennial generation and the champions who are out there fighting it might be the best time to be young in America.