State Sen. Ryan Fattman, and a handful of his State House colleagues, are among the youngest lawmakers on Beacon Hill.
So when the 33-year-old Webster Republican found himself sitting next to state Sen. Eric Lesser, 32, D-Longmeadow, last year, a conversation about their generation soon put in motion an initiative: talk to fellow millennials and hear their concerns.
“There are really challenges of our generation that are not of our making,” Fattman said about the culmination of their work, the state senate’s “Millennial Engagement Initiative” report released two weeks ago.
Some of those challenges are compiled within the lengthy document, which details young folks’ continuing frustration with public and private institutions that they feel simply aren’t working for them in 2017.
Fattman, Lesser, state Sen. Joseph Boncore, D-Winthrop, state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, state Sen. Patrick O’Connor, R-Weymouth, and state Senate President Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, traveled to 11 cities and town across the state for the report last year to hear from some of their youngest constituents themselves.
The group hoped not only to gather information, but ultimately offer some solutions, including specific bills, Fattman said.
″(Millennials) are constantly innovating and challenging the status quo. Simply put, they are stepping into their role as our future leaders,” the report said. “Our state policies must reflect their needs and we must continually work together—state Senators and millennials—to achieve them.”
Making the government more innovative and transparent; creating ways to handle student debt and financial stability; fixing and growing public transportation; improving financial, civics and media literacy; developing better transitions for young veterans entering civilian life; and addressing affordable housing issues were among the top takeaways, according to the report.
But none of those came as a surprise to Fattman, who said major national events like the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the Great Recession of the mid-2000′s profoundly impacted the society millennials - now the country’s largest living generation - have inherited.
Copious amounts of student loans in a difficult economy have left many in debt, making the notion that each succeeding American generation is better off than the one before it, obsolete, he said. “You cannot say that with our generation,” Fattman said. “The statistics do not show that.”
What the numbers do show is that 60 percent of millennials last year believed “institutional corruption and lack of transparency are the primary causes of the world’s inequality,” the report said. Most believe they cannot trust the government, either.
But the youthful generation does believe in the power of social activism to enact change, and lawmakers think widespread disillusionment with the government can be lessened through transparency. Some millennials said a new, Internet-driven approach to directly connect people with politics - from bills to debates - could help build trust.
Several placed emphasis on the need for practical, civics-minded education in school, like learning how to pay taxes, manage personal finances and how the government works.
“So far, where I’m at in my life and just going through school...I have no idea how to do stuff like paying taxes and bills,” said Kevin Follis, a 19 year-old Lynn native studying in Framingham.
Finding out what’s specifically happening on a given day on Beacon Hill is oftentimes harder than getting news from across the world in the Internet age, said John McCarthy, 19, of Hopedale. “We only see the perspectives and attitudes of the politicians. We don’t get to see what’s going on,” he said.
The report also touched upon fears that student loans, credit card debt and car loans have crippled millennials’ chances for living life with enough money in the bank to get by on their own. Stagnant wages in Massachusetts have contributed to the difficulty of paying back loans.
“Financial anxieties resulting from the troubling combination of skyrocketing debt and faltering wages are contributing to millennials putting off important life milestones such as buying a home and getting married,” the report said.
Student loans are the lynchpin of the economic troubles millennials are facing, said Bryan Cole, 32, of Milford, who left school with thousands of dollars in loans to pay back.
“I’d be interested to see if they had any thoughts about underemployment - if people come out of school with these massive loans and not even have the opportunities to pay them back,” he said.
The high cost of education made Framingham State University student Dexter King, 28, of Southborough, take a seven-year absence from school so he could consider what he really wanted to pursue before spending more money.
Paying tuition at some schools could sometimes be equivanlent to the cost of a home, he said. “I already have such a debt racked up by going to school,” said Jillian Sullivan, a 20-year-old fellow student from Hopkinton.
Although only a sophomore, she said she worries from time to time about being able to pay that back quickly after college. “It’s hard not to think about it,” she said.
The issue seemingly fuels others, such as millennial’s dependability on public transportation, according to the study.
High levels of debt means some millennials are less willing to shell out cash for cars, which means they rely on other ways to get around.
Myle Hally, a 20 year-old Framingham State University student from Randolph, said she has multiple friends who work several jobs to make ends meet for school, housing and car payments.
Those who work at the Natick Mall sometimes trek the three-mile, hour-long walk down Rte. 9 from campus when they can’t rely on bus service, she said.
“I know a lot of their parents don’t have money to give to them, so it’s really on them,” Hally said.
Access to public transportation also limits where millennials can live to get to work, nevermind living in a place that’s affordable, said Rachel Durant, 23, of Sudbury.
Her commute to Boston every day is sometimes up to an hour and a half long. “That kind of time adds on to extra-long days,” she said. “It’s fine, but I definitely think we could do better.”
Local millennials agree that the report is a step in the right direction toward creating solutions, dozens of which lawmakers have specifically outlined in the document.
Putting saving accounts together for first time home and car buyers with additional tax incentives, as well as other ways to save money free from taxes were a few Fattman rattled off.
And many of the issues, King said, are not necessarily limited to just millennials. These are problems people across demographics experience now and will continue to face.
But fixing them could fall on millennials, who will make their mark most likely in their own way. “I think the way we go about that change will be different than past generations,” he said.
As more millennials slowly begin to fill State House halls in the future, Fattman said he wants the report to be the foundation for how they go about engaging and helping their young constituents.
“There’s a lot of criticism of the millennial generation,” he said. “I think some of them are warranted...but I think when you look at the generation as a whole, there is a tremendous dedication to try to improve not just society, but...aspects of American culture that have not been looked at in a long time.”