Tonight, we will hear from President Trump as he delivers his first the State of the Union address. Historically the State of the Union is a big opportunity, one for the president to outline a policy agenda to Congress, and for all of us to hear about the administration’s priorities for the nation. Maybe you like to nerd out on every bit of #SOTU info you can in the weeks leading up. Or maybe that’s not your style, and you’re just ready to tune in for the big takeaways. Either way, I have a hunch we’re eager to answer the same question – is the President going to address the needs of young people in our country?
We can be sure that there will be lots of talk this evening about the strong state of the economy. While it’s always good to see an economy growing and unemployment dropping, as we have the past few years, we know that the story is more complex when it comes to young people. For those who were just starting out as the Great Recession hit, including the bulk of Millennials, the long term financial impacts are still being felt. Young Invincibles’ Financial Health of Young America paper released last year showed that Millennial workers today earn $10,000 less than young adults in 1989, a decline of 20 percent. For young people of color, the situation is even worse, with median net worth of young black people declining by nearly one-third since 1989. (By the way, stay tuned for an update to this paper coming soon….)
The financial challenges facing young people today, including years of depressed wages, won’t just disappear with a rising stock market or tax cuts for corporations. Young people need real solutions to ensure access to job training and quality jobs, as well as improvements to our higher education.
The truth is – our higher education system needs a serious overhaul to work for young people. It has been 10 years since the Higher Education Act was last reauthorized. In that time, we’ve seen tuition and fees at 4-year public institutions rise by 37 percent. With reauthorization on the horizon – Congress has a real opportunity to tackle the problem of higher education access and affordability, yet the House Republicans’ first attempt would only make things worse. Congress should focus on increasing financial aid for students – including Pell Grants and Federal Work Study programs – and making it easier for students who borrow money for school to pay it back instead of spending a lifetime in debt.
Cut to health care. Given repeated efforts to dismantle our health care system over the past year, I imagine it will make an appearance in tonight’s speech. YI has been fighting, alongside all of you, to protect health care and the Affordable Care Act, because we know it has been working for young adults. In fact – since passage of the ACA, the young adult uninsurance rate has been cut in half. As an age group, young adults have seen the greatest gains under the ACA. It’s time for Congress to get serious about improving health care and stop trying repeal the ACA every few months. If they need ideas for ways to strengthen the health care system, we’d be happy to help.
One thing we know will come up this evening will be the DREAMers: those young people brought to the United States as children, but now facing an uncertain future. Although President Trump caused their crisis by abruptly canceling the DACA program, I’m not hopeful he will bring any real solutions for DREAMers. While there have been many bipartisan bills that could help DREAMers, the only thing lacking is the political will to do what’s right – which is to pave a clear path to citizenship for these young people who rightfully call this country their home. More than one in seven young people today were born outside the United States. DREAMers are an integral part of the Millennial generation, so I know and expect young people to be the ones to keep up the pressure to help them find that political will.
Young people have found their political voice at this key moment in time when Millennials are now the biggest voting bloc in this country. Later this year we will see local, state, and federal elections taking place from coast-to-coast. At the top of the list of 2018 goals for YI is to make sure every young person gets registered, learns about their local races, and gets to the polls to vote for the issues we care about the most.
The power of young people is real – and there is no denying the importance of it in 2018. On higher ed, health care, the DREAMERs, and many other issues, I know young people will use this moment to make their voices heard and keep fighting until we can truly shape the state of our union.