The data on my generation is pretty clear: we lean further left on policy questions like universal healthcare, affordable education, family leave, and wage inequality than prior generations. A lot of people, I think, look at loud millennials (like me) and wonder why we can't just be happy with what we have.
I think the focus of many millennials has changed from "America is the greatest!" to "Imagine how much greater America could be." I credit the information age: Via the internet, we are able to see the quality of living in other peer countries, and think "What if?"
We grow up being told how great our country is, but then go online and find that people in other countries have the same standard of living we do but without the constant fear of bankruptcy. We grow up thinking "Going to the doctor is expensive, so don't see one unless you have to," and then see that most of the developed world can go to the doctor for free or at very low cost. We grow up thinking "Work hard so you can retire at 65 and travel a little," and then find out most of Europe gets weeks and weeks of vacation time a year and is doing their traveling in their 20s and 30s and loving it. (I saw the above ideas from a Reddit user named Sam474 and nodded along vigorously.)
So then we start asking why the richest country in the world has the most expensive health-care system in the world. Why we have expensive child care and no paid parental leave. Why wages haven't risen since 1978 while there is a high childhood poverty rate and rampant homelessness. And we are vilified for it: "Lazy!" "Entitled!" "Airhead socialists!"
Policies to ameliorate these problems and give more options to the average person aren't radical. Not so long ago, our predecessors adopted such policies. And they were called un-American, too. As Harry Truman said in 1952: "Socialism is a scareword they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years. Socialism is what they called public power. Socialism is what they called social security. Socialism is what they called farm price supports. Socialism is what they called bank deposit insurance. Socialism is what they called the growth of free and independent labor organizations. Socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people."
(I will note, as I often do, that the 1956 Republican National Platform supported raising the minimum wage, expanding labor unions, better health protection for all people, expansion of social security, improved housing availability and affordability, and preventing monopolies via antitrust laws.)
Back then, the government regulated business to benefit the masses. Now, business regulates the government to squeeze more from the masses. According to data recently released by the Treasury Department, thanks to the 2017 tax cuts passed by the GOP, corporations paid $91 billion less in taxes in 2018 than in 2017; individuals paid $93 billion more. People are working full-time jobs and still need food stamps or Medicaid medical coverage to get by. Employers are essentially leeching off the government. Health insurance costs more, but pays for less. When the minimum wage increases, businesses threaten to raise their prices and wipe out any gains.
It's not just that the rich and powerful are holding the cards. It's the effect on everyone else. We are all working more and getting less. Being debt-free and having the ability to retire — two essential pieces of the American dream — seem like fantasies to so many of my generation.
As children, we were all told to "follow our dreams" by parents, teachers, films, and literature. But then adults are basically punished for not choosing safe, money-making careers. The cognitive dissonance is astonishing.
Democracy isn't just about being able to vote. It's about having control over your life. And a lot of us don't feel in control. This isn't just about money. It's about something far more precious: control over our time and energy. We take jobs that (barely) pay the bills. We stay in jobs only so we don't lose health insurance. We choose less-fulfilling work to pay off student loans (from education we obtained to do fulfilling work). And when we wonder about a better system, we are shouted down as un-American.
I don't know if we're "entitled" to policies that will give us more control over our lives. But we are certainly entitled to a better debate over them.
Sean Goodbody is a Grand Junction attorney representing injured workers all over western Colorado. Email email@example.com.