Why I’m Betting on Millennials, this November 6th

Robert Reich

Robert Reich Former U.S. Secretary of Labor, Professor at Berkeley

Millennials (and their younger siblings, generation Z’s) are the largest, most diverse and progressive group of potential voters in American history, comprising fully 30 percent of the voting age population.

On November 6th, they’ll have the power to alter the course of American politics – flipping Congress, changing the leadership of states and cities, making lawmakers act and look more like the people who are literally the nation’s future.

But will they vote?

In the last midterm election, in 2014, only 16 percent of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 29 bothered.

In midterms over the last two decades, turnout by young people has averaged about 38 points below the turnout rate of people 60 and older. Which has given older voters a huge say over where the nation is likely to be by the time those younger people reach middle age and the older voters have passed on.

I’m not criticizing younger non-voters. They have a lot on their minds – starting jobs, careers, families. Voting isn’t likely to be high on their list of priorities.  

Also, unlike their grand parents – boomers who were involved in civil rights, voting rights, women’s rights, the anti-Vietnam War movement – most young people today don’t remember a time when political action changed America for the better.

They’re more likely to remember political failures and scandals – George W. Bush lying about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction; Bill Clinton lying about Monica; both parties bailing out Wall Street without so much as a single executive going to jail.

Most don’t even recall when American democracy worked well. They don’t recall the Cold War, when democracy as an ideal worth fighting for. The Berlin Wall came down before they were born.

Instead, during their lives they’ve watched big money take over Washington and state capitals. Which may explain why only about 30 percent of Americans born in the 1980s think it “essential” to live in a democracy.

Many young people have wondered if their votes count anyway, because so many of them live in congressional districts and states that are predictably red or blue.

Given all this, is there any reason to hope that this huge, diverse, progressive cohort of Americans will vote in the upcoming midterms?

My answer is, yes.

First, the issues up for grabs aren’t ideological abstractions for them. They’re causes in which Millennials have direct personal stakes.

Take, for example, gun violence – which some of these young people have experienced first-hand and have taken active roles trying to stop.

Or immigrant’s rights. Over 20 percent of Millennials are Latino, and a growing percent are from families that emigrated from Asia. Many have directly experienced the consequences of Trump’s policies.

A woman’s right to choose whether to have a baby, and gay’s or lesbian’s rights to choose marriage – issues Millennials are also deeply committed to – will be front and center if the Supreme Court puts them back into the hands of Congress and state legislatures.

Millennials are also concerned about student debt, access to college, and opportunities to get ahead unimpeded by racial bigotry or sexual harassment.

And they’re worried about the environment. They know climate change will hit them hardest since they’ll be on the planet longer than older voters.

They’ve also learned that their votes count. They saw Hillary lose by a relative handful of votes in places like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.

They’ve been witnessing razor-thin special elections, such as Conor Lamb’s win by a few hundred votes in the heart of Pennsylvania Trump country, and Hiral Tipirneni’s single-digit loss in an Arizona district Trump won by 21 points in 2016.

They know the importance of taking back governorships in what are expected to be nail-bitingly close races – in states like Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Kansas. They’re aware of the slim but increasingly real possibility of taking back the Senate. (Who knew Ted Cruz would be so vulnerable? Who even knew the name Beto O’Rourke?)

As doubtful as they these young people are about politics, or the differences between the two parties, they also know that Trump and his Republican enablers want to take the nation backwards to an old, white, privileged, isolated America. Most of them don’t.

In my thirty-five years of teaching college students, I’ve not encountered a generation as dedicated to making the nation better as this one.

So my betting is on them, this November 6th. 

***

Reposted from Robert Reich

Robert Reich served as the nation’s 22nd Secretary of Labor and now is a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. His latest book, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future, is now in bookstores. His earlier book, “Supercapitalism,” is out in paperback. For copies of his articles, books, and public radio commentaries, go to www.RobertReich.org.

Posted In: Allied Approaches, From Robert Reich

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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A Friendly Reminder

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