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A Generation Engaged

by Decker Ngongang

August 8,2009

There are over 80 million young people who are considered Millennials, born between 1976 and 1996, a generation that is united by more than just our Facebook accounts, Twitter pages and iPhones – we are a generation which faces an economic system in shambles in need of long term reform; we are a generation enduring a healthcare debate while 30% of our peers are without healthcare coverage at all. We are a generation whose unemployment is nearly 8% higher than the national average and when we do get a job, it is likely nowhere near our course of study. My generation is one of the most educated generations and consequently the average student loan debt tops $27,000 limiting job mobility, making our educations an unlikely burden on our future.

We are a generation faced with a combination of challenges nearly no other generation before us has ever faced. Are we depressed? No. Are we angry with the mess our grandparents and parents seemingly left us? No – instead we understand that though we have problems we are no different than the generations before us who had to tackle the problems facing them.

This is a unique time in our world, with circumstances requiring unique solutions and therefore my generation is standing up – not just focusing on change through a voting booth, but by organizing through civic ventures, increasing our level of volunteering and making service the predominant theme on our career goals, not just money. The culture by which our world has operated must change fundamentally; humanity, accountability, and conservation are no longer fringe elements of a certain political ideology – our generation of varying political perspectives, races, genders and orientations understand that we must unite around these types of principles to secure the viability of our democracy and our future.

We are tired of watching the local and national news and seeing serious issues being played out like partisan poker games, long term solutions require intentional dialogue, informed debate and deliberate action. Recognizing this, my generation has stepped up to the plate of civic and political activism, combining the spirit of pop culture with a commitment to serious policy analysis and grassroots organization.

Recognizing this power and potential, a group of peers joined our organizations to form a coalition called "80 Million Strong for Young American Jobs", representing the collective voices of millions of Millennials. Its purpose: to give young people the tools they need to engage substantively with policymakers and propose solutions to these problems.

To empower our generation and ensure that we are ready to lead into the future those of us with the social capital and the access must not hold onto it for our own political gain or for organizational exclusivity. Two weeks ago, 80millionstrong put on a summit inside the capital building in Washington, DC, which included several young people from Charlotte. There we united the voices of over 120 young people from all over the country, valuing each perspective equally coming away with specific actions that our national and local politicians can champion that will invest in the future of our democracy – young people.

First, we should invest in "Mission Critical" jobs and training programs in our community colleges that will utilize new technologies ranging from the emerging green sector to increased online infrastructure. Second, we need to create volunteer-to-career pathways that will provide grants to young people working in unpaid local, state, and federal internships that would expose a new demographic of young people to the possibility of a career in service and so that Millennials can gain the experience they need to gain employment while staying afloat financially. Finally, we must fund programs to provide increased continuing education opportunities for new workers and legislation that would provide an increased time frame for student loan repayments.

Young people are more than a marketing tool and willing consumers – we are the future leaders of this world and we must be equipped to lead today and tomorrow. It is time for our policymakers to invest in the generation that will define the future of our country, and in the process, help set America on the path to economic recovery.

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