By Karen Su
"The youth don't vote because they think politicians don't care. Politicians don't care because the youth don't vote." These words still ring true in my ears when I advocate for youth empowerment and talk with my fellow constituents about becoming more civically engaged.
According to the most recent poll released by The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), the youth turnout rate for the 2014 midterm elections was 21.5 percent, which is comparable to that of previous midterm elections. This marks a continuous decrease in youth turnout, which can potentially result in a very dangerous turn for our democracy.
The rapid decline in the youth voter turnout data raises a terrifying concern: who is going to speak for us when the adults are gone? The continuous widening gap between the elderly and youth vote reveals the alarming realization that one day, there may no longer be a voter population to uphold democracy.
Many of the youth are constantly being undermined and discouraged by the social culture that we have in our day and age. Although we live in the social media age of Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, it has become very difficult to promote positive political discussions without the fear of self-alienation. Furthermore, we are seen as the most apathetic generation, and yet there is almost nothing that politicians are doing to encourage the one of the most important, if not, the most important demographic to vote.
Why is it important for the youth to vote? Well, there are student loans, employment rates, the national debt, reproductive rights, LGBT rights -- just to name a few issues that are extremely important to the youth. Aside from being the future of the country's voter make-up, the youth have a lot at stake when it comes to selecting their representatives for the national legislature. By 2015, Millennials will make up one-third of the electorate. We need to pay more attention to the issues that candidates address in their platforms, and candidates need to start addressing our concerns. Little do we know, we have a lot to be concerned about.
Currently, nearly 71 percent of the U.S. population lives in a state where same-sex marriage is legal and openly LGBT persons are allowed to serve in the military. However, there are more strides to be made in terms of making sure that 71 percent increases to 100 percent. Although not every youth is unified behind the LGBT equality movement, this issue, like many others, stands to be very popular amongst the youth.
Nonetheless, there is nothing that has been more glaring than the rapidly increasing hike in tuition prices for higher education in this country. Over the years, college tuition have increased more rapidly than the rate of inflation -- that's terrifying. According to a report published by College Board, tuition and fees at private colleges have increased to 3.7 percent on average to $31, 231 this academic year. In-state residents at four-year public schools, the tuition and fees have risen by 2.9 percent to $9,139. Whereas, inflation has risen by 1.4 percent in the year up until September 2014. According to The Institute for College Access & Success, an Oakland, California-based advocacy group, about 69 percent of college seniors graduate with student debt.
This further reinforces the growing concern that higher education has become increasingly unaffordable, had puts many youth in a disadvantaged position.
On another note, reproductive rights have been a hot topic in the past year in Washington. With a Republican-controlled Congress, the Republicans are making it a priority to pass anti-abortion legislation -- if you care about this at all, this is your time to raise your voice.
In addition, according to a recent report released by the U.S. Department of Defense, the youth (25 years of age or younger) make-up almost half of the U.S. Military, which further reinforces the idea that the youth do have a lot at stake at the ballot box, more than people would like to think.
These issues are just several of many that need to be included in the conversation for the upcoming elections, especially 2016. Are we doing anything about these issues? Yes. Representative Sara Blair, the 18-year old, took the West Virginia state legislature election by storm. She, along with many other youths in our country, are making great strides to make a positive impact in our communities. Alex Wirth, founder and former Chair of the Campaign for a Presidential Youth Council, is working to establish an organization that promotes the discussion between our country's policymakers and our youth.
There have been long strides made in the past decade in the aforementioned areas, and there are more strides to be made by policymakers and the youth alike. However, Washington can no longer overshadow the youth voice with its constant bickering and gridlock partisanship. The youth are ready to work to make progress to improve our country's antiquated laws, but the politicians and society as a whole need to start empowering the youth voice. The voters that we need to include the most are the youth, the ones that are already championing for these issues but have long been neglected. In order for this country to progress in every aspect, one-third of the electorate needs to be welcomed into the conversation.
People are starting to forget that this is a collaborative effort. In order to continue to preserve democracy, we need to make sure that we are encouraging the youth to become more civically engaged by providing more opportunities for them to do so. In addition, we need to place more emphasis on the importance of the youth vote and participation in our classrooms and society. Politicians, community leaders, teachers, and parents: I am inviting you to start supporting the youth in your communities by demonstrating the significance of the youth vote and start paying attention to our future. The future has a voice -- it's been silenced for way too long.