Thirty of us sat in a Chicago bar discussing how to create a better future for a tsunami of college graduates who are struggling to land jobs. Over local brews at Haymarket Pub and Brewery, we debated solutions and resolved how to better prepare our generation for today's tough economy.
I'm part of a new movement of Millennials working to make change in our state -- on a wide range of issues, from unemployment to education to access to lawmakers at the Statehouse -- to make sure my generation can thrive.
This summer marks the first time that young adults like me across Illinois, who are often engaged but not always united, are putting our heads together to debate a better, more comprehensive state agenda for our peers.
As a voting bloc, there are a wide range of critical issues we can help shape -- from student loan debt, to unemployment, to a legislative process that currently often excludes our generation during debates.
By recent estimates, 65 percent of graduating college seniors in Illinois last year left school with -- on average -- nearly $30,000 in student loan debt. Our state has the 12th highest unemployment rate in the country; young adults in Illinois, aged 18 to 34, face an unemployment rate of roughly 11 percent -- that's nearly twice the national adult unemployment rate. And our state legislative process is structured in such a way that my generation is left out of critical policy discussions.
We have an opportunity to change this.
The first step is identifying the problems and finding solutions, as I've been doing along with hundreds of Millennials this summer under the movement called NextGen Illinois. At nearly 60 caucuses modeled similarly to political committees, roughly 700 of us have brainstormed potential policy solutions.
Young adults at caucus after caucus say student loan debt is a major problem because high debt prevents our generation from being able to move forward with our lives -- buying that first car is impossible, for example, if we're struggling to put food on the table while paying off loan interest rates. Millennials like me who joined caucuses came up with some fixes: the state could incentivize good academic performance with additional aid and provide a path to help student borrowers pay off their debt.
We also heard often about the difficulty they have finding work. Some caucus-goers suggest high schools increase technical and certification programs to help students build the skills necessary to compete; others say our state should encourage companies to hire our generation by providing tax incentives for companies to move their business to the South Side of Chicago, where a disproportionate number of unemployed young people live.
And there's a lot to do in Springfield; my generation gets that there are serious problems with the role money plays in the policy-making process. We heard new ideas for making elected officials more accessible and therefore accountable to young adults across the state, such as creating a user-friendly Illinois government mobile app. to access public data.
All summer, we heard these solutions at bars, community centers, and parks this summer to determine how to improve our generation's economic prospects. And on September 27, I'll join 1,500 Millennials across Illinois to put these ideas into a cohesive agenda of top policy priorities for lawmakers elected in November.
After the 27th, we'll take the next step - we'll go to the polls in November to show that we're a constituency who cares and can make a difference. With just 24 percent of young adults in Illinois, aged 18 to 29, voting in the 2010 midterm election, our state ranks 47th in the nation, in terms of how frequently young adults turn out to vote in local elections. This movement can help change this in November.
I encourage every Millennial reading this to join me on September 27, then at the polls in November, and finally, in the months ahead to make sure our generation's vision for Illinois' future becomes a reality.