Outnumbering Boomers, Millennials Look For Economic Opportunity

Sep 21, 2016
Originally published on September 21, 2016 8:02 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And all this week, as part of our political series, A Nation Engaged, we are asking the question, how can more economic opportunity be created for more Americans? And one part of this conversation are millennials. They now outnumber baby boomers as the largest generation in this country, and they have distinct and diverse economic interests. NPR's Asma Khalid covers the intersection of demographics and politics, and she's in the studio to talk this through with us. Asma, good morning.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hey, how are you?

GREENE: So let me ask you something - just so we're very clear here, who are we talking about when we use this term millennials?

KHALID: So, David, there's a lot of different varying definitions of who a millennial is exactly, but...

GREENE: I'm not one anymore, I think, sadly.

KHALID: Are you above the age of 35?

GREENE: I am.

KHALID: If so, then you - you are not a millennial.

GREENE: OK.

KHALID: But let's go with what the Pew research says. The Pew Research Center defines millennials as people between the ages of 18 and 35. That would include me. I kind of fit into the older edge of that category.

GREENE: Congratulations.

KHALID: Thank you (laughter). But overall, this is a population that is more diverse than the overall American population. It's also a group that is more liberal than the general electorate. And so, you know, we saw in the primaries that Bernie Sanders really captured millennials' economic interests with his talk of cutting student loan interest rates and pushing for free college.

GREENE: Yeah, piling up debt and being able to afford college is something that I've heard so many times as - as something that's so frightening to people in this age group.

KHALID: That's true, David. I mean, we are, I would say, collectively, the most educated generation to date as millennials. And in recent years, about 70 percent of college students graduate with debt. And some voters who I've spoken with out on the campaign trail tell me that they don't go to college because the high cost of college or the threat of student loan debt is sort of a deterrence for them. Months ago, way before the primary season had even officially begun, I started hearing about this issue in New Hampshire. And I met Dan Tothill, who had racked up $132,000 dollars of debt in law school.

GREENE: Oh, my goodness.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

DAN TOTHILL: It feels terrifying to have that number, like, looming over my head. That's not dischargeable in any sort of way. I hope that I can look back on myself in, like, 10 years, like, oh, like, I was so silly to be worrying about that. But at this point, it doesn't feel that way at all.

KHALID: Dan, like a lot of millennials I've met, says that he doesn't expect college to be entirely free. It just needs to be more affordable.

GREENE: And, Asma, we should say, I mean, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have been trying to make some sort of pitch on this issue to young voters.

KHALID: True, David, but I would say that Hillary Clinton has definitely been a larger and louder voice, particularly on the issue of college affordability.

GREENE: Picking up some of what Bernie Sanders was talking about in campaign.

KHALID: Exactly. And, David, you know, a lot of young voters tell me, though, that their economic anxiety around the current student loan crisis isn't just because of debt. They also feel that they're extremely underemployed and, at times, underpaid compared to the relative salaries that their parents had at this age.

GREENE: Oh, interesting. So when we hear the candidates pounding the message of jobs, I mean, that could be really aimed at millennials as well.

KHALID: That's true. Let me give you an example. I talked to Diego Jacobo in Nevada. He tells me he works at a department store on the Las Vegas Strip and lives with his parents to save money.

DIEGO JACOBO: You know, eventually I actually want to move out, and I want to have my own family. And I guess what worries me to this day is, how are my parents are going to live? Are they going to be able to sustain themselves once I move out? And what if I move out and not be able to sustain myself and not move back? Full-times have been eliminated. Now it's just part-times. You literally have to have two jobs just to make it.

GREENE: God, you literally hear the anxiety in his voice.

KHALID: Yeah. And, David, what he was talking about there at the end was, you know, full-times have been eliminated. They're working multiple jobs to make ends meet. And so, you know, part of the concern that I've heard from young workers when they are working multiple jobs is raising the minimum wage, that that is a huge concern - particularly voters who do not have a college education. And I've heard from some folks that it's particularly burdensome for millennials who have young children, and they're struggling to make ends meet.

GREENE: Yeah, how - how important is being a parent if you're a millennial?

KHALID: It is hugely important. You know, I think, David, a lot of people have a stereotype of people in this generation as college students.

GREENE: Yeah.

KHALID: But actually, 90 percent of babies born last year were born to millennial parents.

GREENE: That's astounding.

KHALID: Yeah.

GREENE: So a large majority of people born in the country, I mean, have parents who are your age.

KHALID: Yes, exactly. And so issues of affordable child care are hugely important to this population. I would say that, from student loan debt issues to affordable child care, I hear consistently from voters that there's this concern that they are really strapped for cash in ways that limit their ability to buy a house or save for retirement and, you know, make other economic purchases that you would traditionally expect from a person as they get older.

GREENE: And, Asma, you look at polling all the time. Is there a way, briefly - I mean, the thumbnail of who's winning the millennial vote right now?

KHALID: So Hillary Clinton has an advantage when you're looking at millennial voters. That's not to say, though, that she will gather as much of them as Barack Obama did. A number of millennial voters, particularly some folks who had preferred Bernie Sanders during the primary, are looking at third-party candidate options or possibly just going to stay home because they're really not enchanted with either option.

GREENE: OK. NPR's Asma Khalid covers politics and demographics for us. Asma, thanks, as always.

KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.