Candidates all want to gain the support of young voters, which is no easy task. Savvy and a little cynical, Millennials don’t just want to hear campaign platitudes; they want to be inspired and to hear a positive vision of where our country is headed.
Progressives have largely dominated the conversation about politics and public policies with young people, particularly with young women. But it doesn’t have to be that way: Conservative policy reforms would be a boon to young people, including young women. Not only would reducing government red tape and unleashing the market lead to greater prosperity, but it would also lead to a more dynamic, flexible and more just society. It’s time conservatives aggressively make that case.
Consider the challenges that young people are facing today. Yes, the unemployment rate has gone down, but that’s in part because workers – including young workers – have been giving up on finding employment and dropping out of the workforce. And even those fortunate enough to have jobs are often in positions that fail to put them on the career path that they want. In fact, in 2014, more than four in ten recent college graduates worked in jobs that didn’t require a college degree. That’s up from the historical norm of one in three.
T his is particularly bad news for those who have taken out massive student loans to finance their education. Today, seven out of every ten students graduates with a loan, and the average amount owed accedes $30,000. That’s a lot of money, especially when most young workers are barely scraping by. Unsurprisingly, only about 37 percent of borrowers are actively paying down their student loans. This debt burden holds many young people back; they are less likely to be able to live on their own, buy a car or house, or start a family. And their diminished opportunities ripple through the economy, depriving businesses of what would otherwise be important potential consumers.
Progressive express concern about young people’s challenges, but ignore how their policies drive these problems. Policymakers may have hoped that subsidizing colleges through direct aid, special loan programs, or scholarships would bring down costs for students and families. Yet we now know from decades of experience that school administrators see these subsidies as an opportunity to increase prices, which is why the cost of attending colleges has more than doubled after adjusting for inflation over the last thirty years.
Conservatives have sound ideas for how to address this problem. For example, requiring public (taxpayer-funded) colleges and universities to make educational materials available online and to allow students to take tests and receive credit for attaining skills, for example, would give dedicated students the ability to get an education without paying for luxury of on-campus living. This would give students more affordable learning options and encourage colleges to focus more on their core educational mission.
Conservatives also need to explain how many of the Left’s attempts to create jobs backfire and corrupt our economic system. Green energy initiatives and other government spending is advanced in the name of creating jobs and saving the world, but these programs are often crony capitalism at its worst. Money flows to politically-connected businesses, which waste taxpayer resources and fail to create sustainable jobs. The red tape created by Washington ironically benefits big corporations that can afford lawyers to navigate those rules, while crushing smaller establishments. Conservatives know that the best, fairest way to create jobs is to cut unnecessary regulations and get government out of the business of picking winners and losers.
Millennials place a high value on flexibility. In fact, a 2015 study of Millennials found that they are more willing than other generations to pass up a promotion, change jobs, take a pay cut, or even change careers in order to gain greater flexibility in their jobs. Conservatives should point out how mandated employment regulations are the enemy of true flexibility. In a vacuum, requiring businesses to pay workers more, provide paid leave benefits and health insurance may sound like a boon to workers. Yet these mandates destroy jobs and encourage business to adopt Washington’s one-size-fits-all employment rules, discouraging companies from offering less traditional work arrangements, such as working from home or using flexible schedules.
Conservatives want workers to have real freedom and flexibility to find employment situations that work for them. That’s why they support commonsense ideas like reforming the Fair Labor Standards Act. This Depression Era law imposes onerous rules about how employers must track hours worked and antiquated job classifications that hardly make sense in the modern world.
Conservatives don’t just need slick ads or social media campaigns – when reaching out to the young Americans, they can lead with their policy vision which would create a fairer, more dynamic society with greater opportunity and more freedom for people like them.
Carrie Lukas is the managing director of the Independent Women’s Forum, which just released Working for YOUNG Women: A Modern Agenda for Improving Millennial Women’s Lives.