Detroit Free Press —
September 23, 2011
Will any candidate
rescue the Millennials?
By Stephen Henderson
Here's a fun fact
for the opening of the Michigan GOP
Leadership conference today on Mackinac
Island: The recession is crushing young
people. Across the country, one in five
young adults are living in poverty, their
employment levels are at the lowest level
since the 1940s, and last year saw a 25%
jump in the number residing with their
Want an idea to wrap a presidential campaign
around for 2012? How about something that
can get Millennials, the generation born
between 1982-2003, out of dad's basement and
into a meaningful career?
Unfortunately, it's hard to identify
anything being pushed by the current crop of
GOP presidential hopefuls (two of whom are
scheduled to appear at the Mackinac
conference) that fits the bill.
Right now, the crowded field is a traveling
clown car of candidates. And each joker who
steps out seems more flamboyantly ridiculous
than the last.
They've argued about Ronald Reagan, and who
owns his legacy. They've discussed whether
poor people with life-threatening diseases
should just die. (Apparent answer: yes.) And
they've chided Texas Gov. Rick Perry about
HPV vaccines causing retardation.
When jobs come up, they've offered far-right
boilerplate — lower taxes, less regulation
— and nothing else.
While there's really nothing wrong with
those two ideas, I'm pretty sure unemployed
Millennials understand that the conditions
threatening to make them our next "lost
generation" are more complicated.
Texas, for example, has wonderfully low
taxes and so little regulation that they'd
let you build a toxic waste dump near a
water table. (I'm not making that up.
Google Harold Simmons) But Texas also
ranks sixth in the nation in the rate of
people in poverty and first in people
without health insurance.
So while the state led the nation in job
creation over the last decade, it's also
true that an awful lot of those jobs were
low-paying and don't offer benefits.
For Millennials, that's basement city.
I'm focusing on Millennials here first,
because they're a gargantuan generation,
larger than any other in America. Second,
with just 19% of the electorate, they played
a key role in the 2008 election of Barack
Third, according to a new book,
Millennial Momentum, by Morley Winograd
(a former Michigan Democratic Party chair)
and Michael Hais (a former associate
professor of political science at the
University of Detroit), they could play an
even larger role in 2012, when they will
make up 25% of eligible voters.
According to folks who study American
generations, Millennials are in line to be
that once-every-eight-decades generation
that shocks the status quo to its
foundations and recasts the nation according
to its own ideals. Think of the Civil War
generation, or the one that fomented the
So the GOP really needs to figure out what
this generation is about, and what they
A few clues: They're more diverse than ever.
They don't want office jobs but badly need
meaning in their work.
And they are a strong, "civic" generation,
which means they value collective effort and
institutions far more than most generations.
It also means they'll leverage powerful
social networks and nongovernmental
institutions for collective good.
Hard for me to filter that profile through
anyone in the GOP field right now. But it's
early. And President Obama, who captured
Millennial energy in 2008, now faces a
haunting enthusiasm gap.
This generation might be there for the
taking — but someone in the Republican
field will have to reach for it.