By Sarah Lovenheim
The freshman class of Congress is bringing age diversity to the halls of Capitol Hill, along with – we hope – a genuine desire to represent the Millennial generation!
Six years after the Great Recession, 18 to 34 year-olds confront a tough economy that could have rippling effects for decades: higher unemployment rates than face adults at large, soaring student loan debt hovering around $1.3 trillion, lower wages than at the start of the Great Recession, and on top of that, negative savings.
Could this year’s bloc of Millennial members help change this?
The new members on the block — or shall we say, of the 114th Congress — include the youngest woman elected to the House, Elise Stefanik of New York (Republican), age 30, and Carlos Curbelo of Florida (Republican), age 34.
By my count, they’re in good company, with seven other Millennials in the House, representing districts from California to Florida (I’m talking about Millennials born in 1980 or after). Did I miss anyone?
Their peers, include: Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan, age 34, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii (Democrat), age 33, Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts (Democrat), age 34, Patrick Murphy of Florida (Democrat), age 31, Aaron Schock of Illinois (Republican), Jason Smith of Missouri (Republican), 34 and Eric Swalwell of California (Democrat), age 33.
Will these talented young leaders stand up for their generation, and take on student loan debt as their big issue?
We certainly hope so! On the heels of President Obama’s speech on college affordability, the nation is looking to the Administration and Congress for policy solutions that could dig the Millennial generation out of the hole its stuck in, and benefit our economy for decades to come.
In an interview with National Journal last year about being a Millennial in Congress, Rep. Gabbard spoke of an “entrepreneurial spirit” that she suggested distinguishes Millennial members of Congress from older representatives to drive change: “The entrepreneurial spirit is present not only in business, but that innovation also has to happen in government. I think we have the opportunity to really shift the way things maybe have been done, to where you’re not afraid to sit down and collaborate and have a conversation.”
The new Millennials in Congress – and those serving for another consecutive year – could take those words to heart to drive real progress. In addition to serving their constituents of all ages, they represent the more than 90 million Millennials in the U.S. today.
As President Obama put it the other night, citing Senator Kennedy from his speech on college affordability, “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress on education.” And today, that means making higher education more affordable for everyone.