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By Michael J. Rodrigues
Massachusetts State Senator
Posted Apr. 1, 2016 at 5:55 PM
As the largest generation in the United States, the most ethnically diverse generation, and the generation where Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat have come of age, Millennials represent one-third of the total U.S. population, and by 2020, they will make up 50 percent of the nation’s workforce.
Because Millennials are starting down their educational and career pathways, they have an immense opportunity to become agents of social change and shape the direction of our economy for many decades to come.
However, Millennials remain seemingly disengaged with government. It is not enough to put forward policy solutions that aim to address the student debt crisis, income inequality, transportation equity, and assume that the largest generation in the U.S. will suddenly become engaged.
To increase engagement and interest, legislators — at both the federal and state level — must reach out to Millennials, engage them where they are: in schools, at community centers, at work, online, etc., and include them as part of a collaborative effort on how we can address the various challenges that their generation faces.
Whether it is finding ways to make student loan payments more affordable; promoting digital literacy and innovation; pushing for equal pay and paycheck fairness; supporting investments and policies that create better-paying jobs; or expanding access to programs for those who want to buy their first home; Millennials have to be a part of the larger discussion on how we address the issues that are important to their everyday lives.
However, it should come as no surprise that Millennials are turning toward alternative means of civic engagement to meet their desire for meaningful and measurable progress.
Because many Millennials no longer view the government as a viable solution to their problems, they are becoming more involved in non-profits and community service as an alternative. Yet, there is hope still that government can play a role. According to a 2014 Deloitte Millennial Survey, three-quarters of Millennials believe that government has the potential to address social challenges.
If Millennials believe in government itself, why are they not getting involved? As a 2007 CIRCLE study explains, young people are not “eschewing politics as much as they do not see politics as an option. They see no clear access points, and their perceptions and experiences with the political system suggest to them that they cannot have an impact, which is what they seek.” It is clear that Millennials desire to have an impact, but they are often mistaken as disengaged by older generations.
The Millennial Engagement Initiative, launched by Senate President Stan Rosenberg and Sen. Eric Lesser, is a series of discussions across the Commonwealth that will allow the Massachusetts State Senate to better engage Millennials, encouraging them to have their voices heard and to make an impact on shaping their futures.
This initiative not only gives legislators an opportunity to understand the needs of Millennials, but also provides Millennials a platform to become a part of a larger collaboration to finding solutions to our shared challenges.
Millennials: we are bringing the conversation to you. Please join Senate President Rosenberg, Senator Lesser, and I at the SouthCoast Millennial Engagement Roundtable on Wednesday, April 6 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the UMass Dartmouth Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (151 Martine St., Fall River). Reserve your spot at southcoastmillennials.eventbrite.com.
State Sen. Michael J. Rodrigues, D-Westport, represents the First Bristol and Plymouth District and serves as the Assistant Majority Whip and Senate Chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Revenue.