Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Kids Are So Alright - The Millennials, The New Liberals

Listen to: Teach Your Children by CSN&Y

The first "always connected" generation is also now officially the most liberal generation, according to Pew Research in a survey conducted at the end of 2009. This is the Millennial cadre born between 1980 and 1992; in other words, today's 18-29 year-olds, the young adults.

Millennials cast a wary eye on human nature. Two-thirds say "you can't be too careful" when dealing with people. This may be due to a host of factors, among them the subtler effects of 9/11. Although, as seen below, Millennials think more poorly of their peers than their elders when it comes to morality.

Yet they are less skeptical than their elders of government. More so than other generations, they believe government should do more to solve problems.

Millennials remain the most likely of any generation to self-identify as liberals, and are less supportive than their elders of an assertive national security policy and more supportive of a progressive domestic social agenda. 

Though they are still more likely than any other age group to identify as Democrats, by early 2010, their support for Obama and the Democrats has receded, as evidenced both by survey data and by their low level of participation in recent off-year and special elections.

This is a note of particular concern for liberal parents, grandparents and older siblings. Research we did did for a get-out-the-vote project in 2008 shows that if a person votes for the same party in his or her first three elections, they will most likely vote that way for their entire lives. Urge the young people to stay involved in the political process.

They are the least overtly religious American generation in modern times. One-in-four are unaffiliated with any religion, far more than the share of older adults when they were ages 18 to 29. Numerous church scandals, whether they be about child abuse or financial irregularities, seem to have left a lasting impression on the Millennials. Yet they pray about as often as previous generations.

Millennials are on course to become the most educated generation in American history.

This may be one of the happier effects of the Great Republican Recession (Not to be confused with the Great Republican Depression of the 1930s.) Millions of 20-somethings are enrolled in graduate schools, colleges or community colleges in part because they can't find a job. Among 18-to-24 year-olds 39.6% were enrolled in college as of 2008, according to census data.(This is up from 24% in 1973.)

Despite the higher costs of four-year institutions, their enrollments have not dropped during this recession. Rather, they have held steady - and have been able to do so despite tuition increases averaging 4.9% per year beyond general inflation from 1999-2000 to 2009-10 at public four-year colleges and universities (College Board, 2009).

A disturbing note is that college enrollment for men is actually falling in the Millennial group, and the decline is almost totally attributable to low enrollment rates of male Blacks and Hispanics.

Millennials report having had fewer spats with mom or dad than older adults say they had with their own parents when they were growing up.

A majority say that the older generation is superior to the younger generation when it comes to moral values and work ethic. (Perhaps they haven't been in the workforce long enough to see the truth about the latter!)

The generation is less white: 61% to be exact, versus 70% for the over 30 crowd. (Blacks account for 14% of Millennials, Hispanics 19%, Asian for 5% vs. 11, 13 and 5% for the over-30s.)

Eventually the Millennials, once the standard 18-year-long generation grows into adulthood, will represent the largest population cadre ever in the United States, larger than even the Baby Boomers by a few million souls.

These statistics, especially the education numbers, bode well for us as a nation. The attitudes and values the Millennials are embracing bodes particularly well for liberalism, although that liberalism still needs to be nursed into full maturity.

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