6 Issues Millennials Need to Be Looking Out for This Election

United States Student Work Activism
by Rebecca Bellan Feb 11, 2016

1. The importance of urban policy

Most presidential candidates have avoided or skimmed over the topic of urban policy and housing, despite our ever-growing urban populations. Our cities aren’t just hubs of earning and wealth dispersal amongst and between classes, they’re the lifeblood of our banking system. Real estate is the largest asset category in the United States and the center of the greatest market crash since the Great Depression. We are in the midst of a rental housing crisis, where the rents are rising faster than inflation, leaving people in the lurch for affordable housing and mortgage lenders hesitant to finance anyone looking for a loan.

Our next president should be making policies that support a beneficial transition of our cities. U.S. cities should be shifting toward becoming pivotal spaces for innovation, creativity and togetherness — not just places for certain people to grow richer. We need to do things like invest in better infrastructure and public transit, tackle poverty, and create more affordable and diversified housing.

Bernie and Hillary both seem to see rebuilding America’s infrastructure as a great way to create jobs and improve on roads, bridges and transit, both local and national. However, they’ve both stopped short of getting into the nitty-gritty of urban policy and the housing crisis. Maybe they, and the Republican candidates, see urban policy as too small-time for their national agendas. If that’s the case, they all need a wake-up call from their millennial voters who mainly live in urban societies and are affected by unsustainable and unaffordable housing, poor public transit options, low-wage jobs and other city-stemmed issues.

2. The fact that racism still exists

As much as we might like to think that we do, we don’t live in a post-racial society. The Guardian released a study that showed that young black men were nine out of 10 times more likely to be killed by police in America during 2015. The study tallied a total of 1,134 deaths by police brutality last year. The challenge moving forward will be in finding a candidate who is serious about creating solutions that don’t allow the use of lethal force by police to go on without scrutiny. The present policy measures are insufficient and this unjust structure must be called into question, according to one opinion piece by the Roosevelt Institute.

“…we must show Millennials — the leaders of today and tomorrow — that racism still exists so that they can press on ever more firmly toward extinction.”

Clinton, during the January 17 debate, took a notable stand against racial disparity in policing and acknowledged that much of the nation sees the lives of young African American men as worthless. “Sadly, it’s a reality,” she said. “There needs to be a concerted effort to address the systemic racism in our criminal justice system. And that requires a very clear agenda for retraining police officers, looking at ways to end racial profiling, finding more ways to really bring the disparities that stalk our country into high relief.”

Sanders has been publicly outraged by police brutality and racial profiling from the start of his campaign. He gained popularity among the black community after his interview and discussion with rapper Killer Mike. Sanders believes that the US Department of Justice should do a thorough investigation anytime someone dies in police custody.

Marco Rubio has said little to nothing on changing policies so as to ensure that police brutality is not tolerated at all in our country. Instead, he has defended the vast majority of police officers who are not to be blamed for these “rare” incidences of violence against local communities. There’s no point asking what Trump or Cruz would have to say about this as they both, based on their past statements, seem to be rampant bigots — especially against Muslims and illegal immigrants.

3. Education standards in the United States

Many candidates are busy in discussion about making higher education more affordable, or even free, and allowing post-grads to refinance their loans and start a new income-based payment plan. While we millennials are ever grateful (but mostly hopeful that our next president will just magically erase our loans), the candidates seem to be largely ignoring or bypassing discussion of K-12 education.

The U.S. ranks 14th globally in education, 24th in literacy and 2nd in ignorance. Our educational statistics should reflect our status as a world leader. Maybe our numbers leave something to be desired because according to a monthly Gallup poll, only 3 percent of Americans believe education to be our nation’s most important problem. Net economic problems cover 27 percent of Americans’ fears. We need to realize, as a nation, that there will never be an economic change if we don’t put in the time and effort to correctly educate the generation that will be heading any potential future change. We’re talking less standardized tests that don’t prove much about a child’s intelligence, and more class subjects that will prepare children for life outside of education and life in the global arena.

Candidates aren’t talking about it because we aren’t talking about it. Part of the reason our global educational statistics are so low is due to our varied and out-of-date curriculums. We’ve got Bible Belt school boards voting in favor of students learning creationism over evolutionism. How are our children meant to grow into rational and logical humans that can lead the United States, if there continues to be no enforcement of the principle that we are a country with a separation of church from state?

Nearly each Republican candidate, from Jeb Bush to Chris Christie seem to refuse to discuss evolutionism or how old the Earth is, and instead say that they believe that it should be up to the school to decide how many varying “theories” or “viewpoints” to incorporate into their curriculum. Bush went so far as to say that his education plan would give more power back to the “states, local school districts and parents.” Right, because taking funding out of the Federal Department of Education and putting it into individual states wouldn’t divide our country further.

The curriculum is only part of the battle. How are students meant to find a love of learning when there is an overwhelming number of under-qualified teaching staff? There needs to be more incentive to become a teacher, as well, so that we have truly influential teachers shaping the next generation’s minds. Currently the average teacher salary is around $56,000. We need a candidate who believes in placing a higher value on education.

4. Who does the government really work for?

“We the people of the United States…” don’t really seem to have much of a say when it comes to prosecution of criminal misconduct. According to a statistical analysis on the Federal Prison population, nearly three-fourths of the population are non-violent drug offenders, yet corporate criminals are constantly escaping justice for their actions. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren cited many examples of corporations evading meaningful prosecution for their crimes in her New York Times opinion piece. Novartis, for example, is a major drug company that paid pharmacies to push certain drugs that ended up costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Warren said that the government has full authority to dismantle companies that defraud Medicare and Medicaid. Novartis was sentenced with paying a fine so small that the CEO sort of shrugged when considering if they’d change their ethical behavior.

“The failure to adequately punish big corporations or their executives when they break the law undermines the foundations of this great country,” said Warren.

The legislation is in place, but deregulation is the main problem here. This, combined with consolidation of wealth, will lead us into the same traps we fell into during the 2009 financial crash. Think of how much of that dirty corporate money could have gone to other enterprises, like tertiary education and health care. The president nominates government division heads who enforce the laws. Nobody is above the law. For millennials, it’s a matter of choosing a candidate who we think won’t align themselves with Wall Street and other corporate giants, and instead work to enforce our laws.

It is more or less common knowledge that Sanders is for breaking up big banks and reforming Wall Street, and that Clinton wants to appoint more regulators, prosecute individuals and firms and ensure that no wealth is too complex to manage.

5. Income inequality and middle class labor economics

While we’re on the subject of economics, let’s talk about the disparity in wealth distribution in our country — where the “middle class,” or lack thereof, is barely distinguishable from the poor. And the richest 1 percent (there are those words again) has 40 percent of all of America’s wealth. The bottom 80 percent only has 7 percent of the wealth. This is because the uber rich and the big corporations aren’t paying taxes like they should be, so there isn’t enough funding for nearly any type of system that might alleviate these inequalities. Maybe you’ve heard these statistics before, but for the next election, we cannot allow this issue to fizzle out like it did after the Occupy Wall Street movement became more or less extinguished. We should be watching out for a candidate that expresses in earnest his or her plan to reform the tax code so we can break this cycle and spread the wealth a bit.

There is no longer a middle class in America, which is a huge problem for millennials, especially those just coming out of college and looking for a job. Declining union coverage is leading to a third of the disappearance of middle class workers from the workforce, according to a report by the Center for American Progress. Many millennials aren’t earning salaried or union jobs and are instead scraping by with contracted or freelance work, along with a second job in hospitality or retail to make ends meet. This means that we aren’t entitled to any healthcare, extra benefits, or even job security that the past few generations before us have had. We aren’t enjoying our 20s because we are working through them, just to survive and pay off our student loans.

Sanders, a self-proclaimed Socialist, is well known for his fight against this income inequality. On February 9, he even tweeted, “In our rigged economic system, almost all of the new income and wealth are going to the top one percent” and “We need trade policies that work for the working families of our nation and not just the CEOs of large, multi-national corporations.” Clinton also sees income inequality as a drag on our economy and proposes things like tightening the tax code so “millionaires don’t pay lower tax rates than their secretaries” and raising the minimum wage. She stops short of saying just how high she’d raise the minimum wage, where Sanders has been pushing for a whopping $15 an hour.

6. Falling into “Kardashian politics”

As millennials, we have the unfortunate tendency toward a behavior that supports sassy headlines and sensationalist media — all in 140 characters or less. Millennials often think and converse in terms of social media and what is trending, but if we want a president in office who will act in our best interests — whatever you or I think those be — we need to avoid the system that propagates ignorant behavior. Following trending articles and clicking links about Donald Trump or other outrageous stories will only lead to a never-ending cycle of extremist statements. Even talking about how much you hate Trump, is cause for him to get more undeserved media attention. According to a poll conducted by Monmouth College in December 2015, only 17.5 percent of millennials favor Trump, yet he’s still constantly one of the top searches on Facebook and Twitter.

On that same token, Sanders’ political rhetoric seems to be optimistically filled with hope and anti-capitalism. He is our left-wing buzzword enthusiast, not far off from Trump blatantly stating, “9-11” when questioned about his desire to keep Muslims out of America. Liberal voters need to be wary that Sanders may not be the magician he claims to be. Obama hooked voters with his own rhetoric of hope and change, yet found himself going back on nearly every policy that he included in his election campaign. Voters give Clinton slack for rattling off lists of priorities were she to become president, while Sanders’ message is clear: “So long as big money interests control the United States Congress, it is gonna be very hard to do what has to be done for working families,” he said at the February 6 Democratic Debate. While Sanders’ message may give you chills, will it give you results? Whoever we decide to vote for, we need to make sure that vote has been based on more than just Facebook shares and buzzwords.

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