Some say the gap between younger and older Americans over economic, social and political issues is wider than at any time since the the 1960s. We explore what this could mean for federal spending priorities and the outcome of the 2012 election.
- David Leonhardt Editor of The Upshot, a New York Times website covering politics and policy; author of the e-book: “Here’s the Deal: How Washington Can Solve the Deficit and Spur Growth."
- Karlyn Bowman Resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute
- Morley Winograd Senior fellow,USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy co-author of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics (Rutgers University Press:
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. We think of the generation gap as a '60s phenomenon, but some political analysts say it's back. Americans between 18 and 30 have very different cultural and political views when compared with older Americans, especially those over 65. In less than eight years, younger Americans will make up about one-third of the voting age population.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about how our government's priorities may shift as those under 30 gain political clout: David Leonhardt of The New York Times, Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute, and, joining us from KNPR in Las Vegas, Morley Winograd of the Annenberg Center. I hope you'll join us as well, 800-433-8850. Your email goes to email@example.com. You can join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MR. DAVID LEONHARDTGood morning.
MS. KARLYN BOWMANGood morning, Diane.
MR. MORLEY WINOGRADMorning, Diane.
REHMDavid Leonhardt, if I could start with you, your piece in The New York Times ran last Sunday talking about old versus young. What's going on?
LEONHARDTI think there are two main things going on, one economic and one political. So it is clear that older people have suffered during the last decade, but younger people have suffered much more. And so if you look, for example, at median income of households in the 20s and 30s, you see a 10 percent drop since a decade ago, whereas people in their 50s and early 60s have actually seen an increase in their pay. They've continued the kind of normal age structure where you make more money as you get older than not as much.
LEONHARDTHome ownership has dropped much more for young people. Wealth has dropped much more. So the young have suffered much more. And you then lay that over -- and it's related, but not -- it doesn't derive straight from the economics -- real political gaps. There's kind of this cliché that the young are always liberal and the old are always conservative, and it's not true. The young voted in overwhelming numbers for Ronald Reagan in 1984. They voted for George H.W. Bush in 1988.
LEONHARDTBut what we've seen over the last decade is we have seen a return to this age divide in which young people vote much more Democratic. People under 40 will go overwhelmingly for Obama. People over 65 will go overwhelmingly for Romney. And we also see different outlooks in all kinds of ways that don't split simply right left. One of the most interesting is young people, although they've suffered more, are much more optimistic about the future of the United States than older people.
REHMOptimistic in what ways?
LEONHARDTWell, in almost all ways. I mean, they think that life in -- they are much more likely to say life in the United States will remain good, whereas older people are much more likely to say that living standards are on the decline. And, I mean, I think we have to speculate a little bit about why that is. But one thing that seems clear is that this real increase in diversity in this country -- the influx of immigrants, the fact that gays and lesbians are much more a part of mainstream life than they used to be -- younger Americans see this as an enormous positive.
LEONHARDTThey are much more socially liberal. In some ways, they are even a little libertarian, and older people are much more worried about some of these developments. They're worried about gay marriage. They're worried about immigrants. And so you could see how two different groups of people would look at the same trends, and one of them would say, wow, this is progress. And the other one would say, wow, this makes us nervous.
REHMDavid Leonhardt, Washington bureau chief for The New York Times. Turning to you, Morley Winograd, how does what David is talking about, writing about differ from what went on during the '60s?
WINOGRADThere's a significant difference because in the '60s, the young generation, which, as you correctly pointed out, was the time when we last had a major generation gap -- don't trust anyone over 30 -- that young generation was a very idealistic generation focused on its values, trying to change the cultural values of the country. That's not what this generation of Millennials, the teenagers and 20s of our time, are about. They're pragmatic in their desire to change the world, and they're looking for solutions.
WINOGRADWe've had similar generational challenges in our historical -- in the country's history, but they had -- it wouldn't be reflected in the '60s in the way the '60s came out, which was a never-ending war between two divided -- two halves of a divided generation. Millennials are very united in their beliefs. They voted over 2-1 for Barack Obama over John McCain last time. They continue to show that level of support for the president's re-election.
WINOGRADAnd so they're more like the civic generation of the Revolutionary War time period, the Republican generation of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, who wanted to change what they found but used government as an instrument of doing that, and that's considerably different in the '60s when government was the enemy.
REHMMorley Winograd of the Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy. He is co-author of "Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, & the Future of American Politics." And to you, Karlyn Bowman, how do you see it? Do you see this great divide developing between the younger and older generations?
BOWMANFirst, I should said that I think Morley and David have made some excellent points, and I think there's something that's very interesting about this generation as a result of the situations that they face, which David described. I think we're seeing the re-emergence in this younger age group of a very old virtue, and that is self-reliance. As Morley suggested, they're not very confident in the federal government, but they're not hostile to the federal government.
BOWMANThey're not confident in business, but at the same time, they're not particularly hostile to business. But a lot of them want to be able to make it on their own because they're not confident in big central institutions. A third of them are the product of divorce, another central institution about which they have significant questions. And so I think this generation is going to be very, very interesting as we go forward.
REHMSo when you talk about this generation being self-reliant, how does that affect their outlook politically?
BOWMANWell, politically, they're very Democratic. Many of the youngest generation cast their first votes for Obama. President Obama has the opportunities to cement a generational allegiance because they voted for him in such substantial numbers. But I think if we look back, as David pointed out earlier, young people tend to vote for the candidate of change. They liked Ronald Reagan, who is our oldest president. They like Newt Gingrich. So it's a very surprising generation in many ways, and you have to be the change candidate to appeal to them, I think, in many ways.
REHMBut, David, you say that through the '80s and '90s, younger and older adults tended to vote pretty much the same way. Are you seeing that separation going on now?
LEONHARDTYes, you are. I mean, younger and older adults both went for the winners in every presidential election in the '80s and the '90s. Depending how you draw the lines in 1980, you could argue that some of the younger folks went for Carter. But basically in every election, the young and the old both went for the winner. And now you really do see that divide. You certainly saw it in 2004. Some Republican analysts were worried when they saw that Bush had lost among older voters -- among younger voters, I'm sorry.
LEONHARDTI think Karlyn made a really interesting point about younger voters being self-reliant and seeing themselves as self-reliant. Think about how much more our government is geared around the idea of helping the old than helping the young. We do have universal single-payer European-style health care as long as you're at least 65 years old. That's called Medicare, right? If you are young, not only do you not have Medicare, but you have some reason to suspect that you may not have it when you get older.
LEONHARDTAnd the same is true of Social Security because of the future of the budget. You look at what's going on in this recession, and you see the government taking deep, deep cuts to education funding, which if you're young may actually influence you, or it may affect your children because you have young children.
LEONHARDTAnd yet you see no cuts so far to Medicare or Social Security. So I think one of the reasons why you see younger people as self-reliant is because they don't have that much choice. Our government right now is much more organized around having a safety net for older people, whether you think that's better or worse, than younger people.
WINOGRADWell, I certainly agree that the current government program is skew in terms of their expenditures towards the older part of the population. I have to disagree with our other guest here with regard to the notion of self-reliance or disfavorable attitudes towards not only the government but the federal government. The latest Pew survey show that Millennials are the only generation that has a favorable, a more -- a much more favorable attitude towards the federal government with almost a majority expressing a favorable attitude compared to less than a third among older generations.
WINOGRADAnd when the Pew asked Millennials versus other generations, do you favor smaller government and fewer services or bigger government and more services, Millennials, 54 percent were in favor of bigger government with more services, 39 percent smaller. That was the exact opposite percentages of all older generations.
WINOGRADSo even though the -- you could argue that the current government is not delivering from an entitlement or benefits perspective, the funds and the support that the Millennial generation is looking for -- and that's certainly true in our higher education and even all aspects of education -- it's not the attitude of a generation to take that on as something that needs to be shifted or reversed.
WINOGRADThis is a generation that loves its parents. It's been taught to work as a group to solve problems, and it's not about to go into a self-reliant mode. It's going to always, in the course of its growth, rely on the group to solve problems. And they see government as part of the group.
REHMI want, before we go any further, Morley, for you to define the age group you call Millennials.
WINOGRADSurely. In our newest book, "Millennial Momentum: How This Generation is Remaking America," we define Millennials as born between 1982 and 2003, which means they're the teenagers and 20-somethings of our current times. And the generation that comes before it, Generation X or the 30-year-olds and even much of the 40-year-olds, that's the generation that David correctly pointed out voted in a conservative way when it's young and still votes conservative. But once you get above 65, it's a very conservative white population.
REHMMorley Winograd of the Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy. I know many of you would like to join the conversation. We'll open the phone shortly and take as many of your calls as we can.
REHMAnd we're talking about what many regard as a growing divide between younger and older people in this country culturally, politically, socially. Here with me: Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute, David Leonhardt of The New York Times and on the line with us from KNPR in Las Vegas, Morley Winograd of the Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy.
REHMHere's our first email from Mark in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. This goes back to something you said earlier, David Leonhardt. He says, "As opportunities fade in the ability to earn a wage, sustaining a young family becomes harder to realize. The next generation will become more militant and more cynical. The decline in ethics, education, parenting and gentility within just the last 30 years is palpable. The national conversation has turned ugly, and we are seeing a decline in this country's position on a national level." Pretty pessimistic.
LEONHARDTIt is. Mark say how old he is, you know?
REHMAnd I wanted to know that very thing myself.
LEONHARDTSo, I mean, I don't know. But to me, that is -- that reflects the pessimism of older Americans when describing younger Americans. Younger Americans don't share a lot of that pessimism, even though they do -- are experiencing some of that difficult reality, right? Younger Americans don't see the country in some sort of huge decline and...
REHMBut, Morley, going back to the '60s, we have a tweet here that says, "Those idealistic kids of the '60s are the older generation now."
WINOGRADWell, they may be the older generation, but they're still fighting over their values and their ideals. They are a divided generation. Half believe deeply in the set of values that the other half think are wrong. The two boomer presidents we've had, George W. Bush and President Clinton, are examples of a generation that can only agree on the surface in terms of working hard and trying to impose their values through government, but with completely opposite perspectives on how to do that.
WINOGRADAnd a lot of that boomer conflict does dominate today's culture because that's the age group that the leadership tends to be a part of. But as David correctly pointed out about the email, that's not the attitudes. Neither militancy nor cynicism are a part of the Millennial generation's tool kit.
REHMAnd, Karlyn, what does all this project for the November presidential election?
BOWMANOlder Americans, as I believe David said earlier, tend to vote in much heavier numbers than younger Americans. And, of course, one of the things that, I think, the Obama administration has been very interested in doing is trying to reconstruct its coalition at this particular point. And one important part of that coalition is young people who voted for President Obama in very, very significant numbers. And he needs to get those young people to not stay home, but to turn out once again and vote for him.
REHMBut that is the question, given this sort of shift in thinking and self-reliance as Karlyn talked about, but as Morley said, maybe not. How does that look for the president, the government, going forward, David?
LEONHARDTFor the 2012 election, Obama's biggest problem is that his constituencies vote in smaller numbers than Romney's, right? Obama will do extremely well among people under 40. He will do extremely well among Asian Americans and Latinos and African Americans. These are groups of people that do not vote in nearly the numbers that older white people do. And so what Obama essentially has to do is get enough of them out and win over enough of the older voters to get above 50 percent.
LEONHARDTLonger term, I do think this is a bigger challenge for the Republican Party than the Democratic Party. I don't think we can know with any certainty that younger people will remain more liberal than not, and they're not uniformly liberal, right? They're not that interested in government protection of online privacy. They're much more open to private accounts for Social Security. But they're certainly more liberal than they are conservative.
LEONHARDTAnd I think one of the questions is, do they get sufficiently fed up with the economy and with a government that, as I mentioned, is more geared toward older voters, that what they say is, you know what, I don't want the government having anymore of my tax money, and they move to the right? do they stay as liberal as they are today?
REHMYou know, it's interesting. Mark in Fort Lauderdale, who sent us that earlier email, just emailed back. He's in his 40s. What do you make of that, Morley?
WINOGRADWell, it's a very -- everybody looks at other generations through their own generational bias lens. We try not to turn this into astrology and say, because you're in the generation, you think a certain way. But certainly, Mark's comments are typical of a -- either a older Gen X or a younger boomer in terms of their belief that other generations will react negatively to what goes on around them.
WINOGRADThe -- while it's often said that, as David pointed out, people think other folks get more conservative as they age, there's actually no social science research of any significance to suggest that's true. Almost all the social science research suggests that the views of how the world works, that we come to during our age of maturation between, roughly, 17 and 25 are the views and the paradigms we hold for the rest of our life because we simply don't listen to new evidence that might contradict our deeply-held values.
BOWMANCertainly, formative political experiences play a role as you age. If you look at those people who came of age politically during the Roosevelt era, they carry their democratic identification with them as they've aged. We only appeared to have one other distinctive generation in our politics and that's those people who came of age during the end Carter's presidency and the beginning of Reagan's presidency. They look a little bit more Republican than the generation that preceded or followed them.
BOWMANAnd so that's why it's so important for Obama. If he can cement that generation allegiance, people may carry those attitudes with them as they age. But it's also true, I just think as a matter of life, as we get older, we tend to become a little bit more conservative on some social and other values, but not necessarily politically.
REHMNow, here's an email from Phil, who says, "I'm a college student. As a young person, I feel Republicans have become generational losers. The positions they've taken on issues like gay rights, women's issues and tax policies do not seem to resonate with people my age. Out of the closet, 30 -- forgive me -- out of my closest 30 friends or so, about four are Republicans." What do you say to that, David?
LEONHARDTWell, the first thing to remember is that people are not randomly distributed across society, right? So there are a lot of Democrats who overwhelmingly know Democrats, and a lot of Republicans who overwhelmingly know Republicans, right?
LEONHARDTBut setting that aside for a minute, I think the tax and the economic question is a completely open question about whether Democrats will be able to hold on to these younger voters 'cause I do think there is an argument that younger voters will become more distrustful of government and less interested in paying taxes as they age. But I think Phil is on to something here because if you look at the long scope of American history, it is a scope that suggests over time rights move in one way.
LEONHARDTWe move toward a society that is freer and that has more rights. We have less religious discrimination. Women can vote. African Americans can vote. White people and black people can get married to each other. It certainly looks like someday, in most states, men will be able to get married to each other. And Republicans are now on the other side of that question. Whether you think it's right or wrong, Republicans are deeply against gay rights in many, many ways.
LEONHARDTAnd so I do think there's a question about whether younger people will say, essentially, Republicans are hostile to gays and lesbians. They are hostile to immigrants. And so I think, long-term, that's a real issue for Republicans. For the short-term, it still works for them. Remember, 31 of 31 state referendums have gone against state gay marriage. It's hard to imagine that continues forever.
REHMMorley, what about the social issues and how they may define not only this generation now but this generation going forward?
WINOGRADCertainly, the Millennial generation is the most tolerant set of voters we have in the electorate today. And it is true as the -- as Phil indicated in his comment, that the lack of tolerance and liberality, if you will, amongst Republicans as an article of faith on social issues is driving that generation away from identifying as Republicans. And I think David's right that it's a very difficult historical trend to get on the other side of once you fall behind.
WINOGRADSo I think that helps Millennials think of themselves more as Democrats. More of them identify as Democrats, slight -- majority, in fact, as opposed to identifying as Republicans. I also think David is correct that the economic tax issues and so forth, and as we try and settle our fiscal house and get it in order, those issues and how they play out amongst Millennials are yet to be completely understood. But they do, again, bring a very strong sense of using government as an instrument of change to the discussion.
BOWMANI'd like to underscore the point about the economic issues by looking at a very spirited contest we had recently in Wisconsin. The youngest age group in the electorate in the exit poll actually voted for Walker over Barrett, the Republican Walker. Now 18 to 29-year-olds tilted ever so slightly for Barrett over Walker.
BOWMANBut the youngest age cohort, who presumably followed these issues very, very closely in Wisconsin about the proper role of government, actually tilted for Scott Walker, the Republican. So I think that David's right. There are some very interesting countercurrents with the problems that Republicans may have going forward on the social issues.
LEONHARDTAnd you can tell a story about why that would be, right? It would be that some younger voters in Wisconsin would be worried that public sector unions were essentially getting too fair of a deal, that older people in their 50s in public sector unions were getting benefits that those younger people could never expect. And so you could kind of imagine why they might tilt right in Wisconsin.
REHMWell, now, we've got a very big issue coming up perhaps as soon as tomorrow. That is the health care issue. How -- or do we know how young people versus older people take a look at government attention to health care for the population? Morley.
WINOGRADSo the latest Pew research on that very specific question shows that Millennials are the only generation that currently express an overall level of approval of the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. Fifty-two percent approve. Thirty-seven percent disapprove. Amongst everybody else, those over 30, all the way up to the older generation, the bill and the program only gets a 38 percent approval rating.
WINOGRADSo, once again, we have a generation that very much looks like the GI generation that supported FDR's efforts to use government to help people with the challenges of daily life. And the other generations that are not particularly excited about those ideas are creating this generational divide that we've been talking about. As my co-author, Mike Hais, likes to say, we are in a period of fear, uncertainty and doubt as deep and as difficult as the New Deal, as the Civil War and the Revolutionary War.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." David Leonhardt.
LEONHARDTSo, again, I said that the Wisconsin results you can explain why younger people might tilt right and vote for Walker. You can likewise explain why younger people would be more in fair -- more in favor of the health reform act, right? Imagine you are a 67-year-old who is unemployed, and you have a pre-existing health condition. You don't need to worry about getting health care. You have Medicare.
LEONHARDTNow, imagine you are a 27-year-old or a 32-year-old who is unemployed and has a pre-existing health condition. You do need to worry about health insurance. You're probably not getting health care. And this bill -- whatever you think of it, positive or negatively -- will make it much easier for you to get health care.
REHMAll right. We've got a great many callers. Let's open the phones now. First to Winston-Salem, N.C. Good morning, Clay. You're on the air.
CLAYHi there, Diane.
CLAYThanks for taking my call.
CLAYMy question or maybe just hoping y'all can elaborate on a little was if y'all have seen any numbers to show that religion or maybe the lack thereof in younger people plays any role. An example is, here in North Carolina last month, we passed an amendment for not recognizing gay marriage. And within my, you know, age group and at least within my circle, and a lot of which...
REHMHow old are you, Clay?
CLAYAnd so a lot of which is, you know, majority of people in Wake Forest. And I just know that, for instance, I'd say almost 80 to 90 percent of people were furious with the result of passing that amendment. And a lot of it was because the only -- the main argument against it was I'm going with the Bible or I'm sticking with what God says, where a lot of us at my age -- at least, like I say, in my circle -- don't think that that's appropriate.
WINOGRADThe Millennial generation is the least religious generation in America. That does not mean they don't have beliefs in God and in spiritual life because this is a very religious country. So 80 percent will express some form of belief in a divine being. But that's still lower than any other generation. Where they really -- and Clay's comments are very, very typical -- where they really leave the religious conversation is when people attempt to use doctrine as the answer to a question.
WINOGRADThis is a pragmatic generation that looks for facts and for rational arguments, and those who try and appeal in more values-based, doctrinal ways lose the audience, just as Clay described.
BOWMANI certainly agree with Morley that they're less conventionally religious. We don't know whether they'll come back to church once they become parents and have children. It may happen. It may not. But they're absolutely the least religious generation. They'd still say they believe in God. And your caller's question about the gay rights issue points to another very big social issue or a time where the data are much more ambiguous.
BOWMANAnd that is the issue of abortion. Again, the polls differ on this. Some polls show that the youngest generation is the most accepting, the most supportive, and other polls suggest that that may not be the case.
REHMDavid, did you ask any of those questions regarding abortion?
LEONHARDTI did. And, I mean, abortions are really interesting issue because I think there are, as Karlyn says, polls going both ways. But I emerged thinking the bulk of the evidence points to the idea that there is not the generational divide on abortion that there is on other issues, that young people are not much more liberal than older people on abortion as they are on so many other issues.
LEONHARDTAnd, again, we're left to speculation. But I do think one thing that could play a role here is technology. If you are younger, there is a good chance you have gotten a much better look inside a womb, thanks to technology, than someone who is 50 or 60 might have when they were having kids.
REHMAnd you certainly have better access to birth control measures, pills...
REHM...the day after, that sort of thing, so you're less concerned about abortion, perhaps.
LEONHARDTYes. And so, I mean, I assume there are sort of crosscurrents here. I mean, look, obviously younger people are -- what I would say about younger people is it's not that they're more hostile to abortion than older people. It's that they're more hostile to abortion than you would expect, given their attitude on so many other issues.
REHMThan you would expect. What does that mean?
LEONHARDTSo if you looked at younger people's attitudes toward -- if you looked at the numbers they vote -- in the numbers that they vote for Obama, if you look at their attitudes toward all kinds of issues, you would say, wow, they look really liberal. Look at this group that looks so liberal. What would you predict its attitude to abortion would be? And you wouldn't predict it would be so closely divided.
REHMDavid Leonhardt, Washington bureau chief for The New York Times. More of your calls and comments when we come back. I do invite you to stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back as we continue our discussion on the generational divide that seems to be growing in this country politically, socially and culturally. Let's go to Anna in Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Anna. Go right ahead.
ANNAThank you, Diane, and good morning. You sound terrific, by the way.
ANNAOK. So I'm 45 years old, and my parents were baby boomers, both very liberal vets. I have a Millennial-aged child who -- and I guess, just on the subject of -- I guess self-reliance was the first thing -- comment that kind of hit me as being -- you know, my child has a chronic health condition. He's already graduated high school. He's at home. He goes to the, you know, to look for jobs. He sees middle-aged and older people bagging groceries. And then when we look at colleges, it's so expensive, you know, and all of that.
ANNAI mean -- and that there is, I mean, just a lot of fear, doubt and -- like one of the panelists said, and myself, you know, 'cause I've been harping on him, you know, you've got to find a job with health benefits, you know. And then I -- my husband, who has a doctorate-level, you know, degree, he just lost his job, so I'm the sole provider for him and my three children. And so I feel pressure about, you know, having health insurance as well. But, anyway, thank you.
REHMI can certainly understand that, Anna. And as we talk about self-reliance, with the paucity of jobs available out there, reaching that point of self-reliance is becoming more and more difficult, Karlyn.
BOWMANThere's no question about that, and I certainly agree with Morley that people do want the federal government to play a major role in their lives. I just think it's very complex. They're very skeptical about whether government will be there for them. One of the puckish pollsters asked a question quite a while ago about -- he asked young people whether they believe they'd ever see a UFO.
BOWMANAnd then he separately asked them whether they believed they'd ever see a Social Security check. And, of course, more of them thought they might see a UFO than a Social Security check. And so, again, they definitely want government to be there for the very difficult circumstances that so many people find themselves in today.
BOWMANBut they're also skeptical, so it's complex.
WINOGRADWell, I certainly agree that, as Millennials think about how to construct a new civic ethos that does give us the ability as a country to deal with our collective challenges, they often think about the solutions at a very local sort of individualized, inside local-group solutions. So they're looking for freedom and flexibility, even choice, in the execution of ways to address our challenges. But they're looking for the federal government to set a system in which those choices can be exercised with some opportunity as our caller talked about.
WINOGRADSome -- less fear, uncertainty and doubt, less pressure, more of a supportive environment, and I think that may be where all of us can come to a conclusion that the government solutions that Millennials might demand as they become a larger and -- larger share of the electorate, as you indicated in your opening comments, Diane, won't look like the new-deal government that we currently are trying to manage because we need to take advantage of the technologies that are out there and run it in a smarter, better way.
REHMHere's an interesting tweet. It says, "We, as Millennials, can support Rick Santorum and Barack Obama at the same time. We are slightly liberal and conservative all at once." David.
LEONHARDTWell, I assume that's referring to the fact that Santorum did better among younger voters in the Republican primary than Romney did, but I would be surprised if Santorum did well among younger voters had he run in a general election. I don't know, Karlyn, if you know the exit polls from the Pennsylvania Senate race he lost.
LEONHARDTBut I'm guessing he did quite poorly among younger voters. Look, I do agree there are conservative aspects of younger voters. I mentioned a few before. Their attitude toward Social Security, abortion is a mixed picture, and I think it's going to be really interesting to see where they go on economics.
REHMAll right. To Portsmouth, N.H. Good morning, Jason.
JASONGood morning. I'm 47 years old and often find myself refereeing between the two generations.
JASONOne thing I wanted to dovetail off of the previous comment is look at it from a higher view, that I think for people of my generation, they saw a lot of what we called the social compact economic promises broken. Work hard, you get a good job, you have job security, your health care is taken care of, and you'll have some sort of a pension or a highly contributed to 401 (k) for your retirement. All of those promises were sort of broken over the last 30 years.
JASONAnd I think when people of my generation and people -- the Millennials see an ad from AARP -- for example, a relatively well-healed 65-year-old saying, hands off my Medicare and hands off my Social Security, or we'll vote you out of office -- I think what they see is that -- listen, all of these promises have already been broken to us.
JASONWe're going to have to break them for you, or else we're not going to be sustainable. Or else the older generation who are not needy -- the ones who are needy absolutely are -- there's this perception that they're taking all of them to the grave, and the good of the country be damned. And I think that's what they're struggling with.
REHMI'm wondering how you react to that caller.
WINOGRADNo, no, I meant yes to what the caller was saying.
REHMYes, yes, yes.
WINOGRADI don't think there's any question that that's the shape of the current political debate. There's some data from Frank N. Magid Associates that suggests that talking to people of a different generation is considered to be the most difficult conversation, much more difficult than talking between races, between gender in our country today. Millennials feel it slightly more strongly than older generations.
WINOGRADNevertheless, everybody, a majority, says it's an intergenerational conversation that they have the hardest time at the personal level. Unfortunately, as the caller just indicated, that is precisely the conversation we need to have at the governmental level. And if we don't have that conversation, we could be in for some real difficulty.
LEONHARDTI just want to pick up quickly on two things the caller said. The caller ended on the word struggled or struggling, and I think that's exactly the right way to describe what younger people are doing. They aren't yet angry about this reality. They are struggling with it, and they're trying to decide what they think when you think about this real -- these long-term fiscal issues. And I think part of the reason we don't know how they're going to end up economically, although they start left, is we don't know what they're ultimately going to decide, given that they're not angry.
LEONHARDTAnd the second phrase he used is my Medicare, which I know he used sarcastically. It was not his phrase. It's really important to keep this in mind. People largely pay for their own Social Security benefits. They don't come close to paying for their own Medicare benefits. And so the average person pays far less in Medicare taxes over their lives than they get in Medicare benefits.
LEONHARDTAnd so you really need to think about Medicare as it's, in part, people -- it's their own. But, in part, it's a massive transfer program from the young to the old, and it's not something that can continue at the rate it's going.
BOWMANEach generation, I think, prepares itself differently for its -- for growing older based on the experience of their parents, their friends, their neighbors, and I think that's what you're seeing in this youngest generation. They're watching the AARP ads, those kinds of things and thinking about their own jobs in a very different way. They want to have pension portability because they don't expect to have one or two jobs as perhaps the oldest generation did.
BOWMANThey're thinking about leisure, I think, in a very interesting and different way, placing much more importance on it than an earlier generation did. So how you see the older generation's experience does have, I think, a powerful effect, and that's where I see some of the self-reliance coming in because you've seen some of the social compact broken.
REHMHere's an email from Adam in Charlotte, N.C., who identifies himself as 28 years old: "I am optimistic for our country's future. However, I've watched the government bail out rich bankers while thousands of people lost their homes. I've been worked to the bone by a company that took advantage of the downturn to squeeze out more of its workers. I will not count on them. Last month, I broke off and work for myself. I and my family will be self-reliant." That picks up on your early point, Karlyn.
BOWMANMm hmm. I think it does. And one of the pollsters who works for one of the major networks occasionally asks an open-ended question: What do you want to be when you grow up? And they're finding that a number of young people are saying they want to be small businessman or small businesswomen because they don't think they can count on bigger institutions like the caller's company. And so I think they are thinking a little differently about these issues.
WINOGRADI agree with Karlyn on all of that. At the same time, when asked about their ideal employers, Millennials in the top 15 obviously rate some of the more sexy technology companies like Apple or Facebook. But they quickly turn to the state department, the CIA and the FBI. Those are not small businesses, and they're a very different kind of preferred employer than we would have ever seen in the 1960s.
REHMAnd to Lansing, Mich., a comment that Erin has, I think, a great many people shared. Good morning.
ERINHello, Ms. Rehm. I'm honored to speak with you. I am a little nervous, I'll be honest.
REHMOh, go right ahead.
ERINI would basically like to point out that in history, I mean, we've seen efforts to keep certain groups uneducated and underfed at times, so it decreased the chance of organizing, like, a change. And I would like to know your panels' opinion on what the long-term effects on our decreasing education and basic assistance -- what are the long-term effects as far as future voter involvement and then even potentially the ability to lead a group of voters by not giving them the information they need to make proper decisions?
WINOGRADThis particular generation, the Millennials, is the first generation in American history not to be given a free public education at the levels required to be economically successful. In the past, we established free primary education and way back in the country's founding in order to provide us the economic skills and the workforce that was required. We moved that to the high school level, still free in the industrial age.
WINOGRADNow, it's clearly a college education requirement to be very successful in an information age economy. And what we've said to this generation is borrow the money. You're on your own. That's absolutely unconscionable for this nation to do that, and we will pay a price, not just in an educated citizenry as your caller pointed out, but in our economic strength as well for having done it.
REHMHow worried is the younger generation about exactly this, David?
LEONHARDTOh, I think they're clearly worried. I think that's part of the reason why you see them saying the last thing that the government should be cutting in times of tight budgets and economic troubles is education.
REHM...it's almost the first thing.
LEONHARDTIt's almost the first thing in part 'cause the way state budgets work. States essentially can't cut Medicaid, and education is often the biggest other item they have on there. We are not, as a nation, less educated than we used to be. Men today in their late 20s are roughly as educated as their fathers, where women are considerably more educated than they mothers were. But we are not making progress at the rate that we used to. And as Morley points out, the need to be more educated continues to grow in society. And so as a society, we're not keeping up with the need to be educated.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Thanks for your call, Erin. Karlyn, you wanted to add to that?
BOWMANWell, I think the education model is going to change very significantly as we move forward, but, clearly, young people -- and I agree with David and Morley -- are very, very concerned about what it means for them.
REHMAnd how are they're going to get it?
REHMI mean, that's the issue. How are they going to get the education they need with, as Morley pointed out, the kinds of borrowing that take a lifetime to repay? To Syracuse, N.Y. Good morning, Josh. Thanks for waiting.
JOSHGood morning, everyone. Interesting -- very interesting show, actually. At the beginning of the show, Morley, you said something that I really agreed with, and that's the Millennials -- I'm actually in the 40s myself. I'm a young 46. But because of my background, I have -- I'm exposed to a lot of Millennials, and especially my social network. And I hear it all the time from younger people -- and it's just not in the States. They actually look to our old programs nostalgically and for a good reason. You know, our country did well in -- through the years after World War II.
JOSHAnd I think that the kids have a sense of history and what worked and what didn't work. I think where the cynicism comes in is the wash of money that's now -- plays part in our political system -- not just the advertising. These people or these younger people are media savvy, so they're watching and listening and reading all of it. And it's -- there's so much money now, there's so much, you know, jockeying for position between the two polls that it's leaving the kids in a weird place.
JOSHI think it's more now a matter of information overload and then them sort of reverting back to what makes sense or what had made sense in the past and then being nostalgic for that. And one other thing that no one has mentioned is the military. I think the kids see the, you know, the vast spending on military, not just Social Security and Medicare but what's being spent on military as a challenge as well.
JOSHThey cut education, which then forces children to make -- young people to make decisions between military and education. And a lot of them end up in the military because of that, which directly impacts them as well. So I think that that's a factor as well, military spending, too.
LEONHARDTYounger people are clearly torn about the military. They are more in favor of military cuts than older voters as ways to balance the budget. They also show -- and I will defer to Karlyn and Morley for the details here -- very little hostility to the military as an institution or to people in the military. Morley just noted that two of the profession that young people cite as wanting to go into are the CIA and the FBI, which are obviously in some ways close cousins of the military, particularly in the era of drones.
WINOGRADCorrect. The Millennial generation, which obviously makes up the vast majority of the armed forces of our country is very patriotic, pro-military, in favor of those in uniform, whether they're firefighters, police, or our armed services. And unlike the 1960s, they venerate the service that the military provides this country both during and after the individual service.
BOWMANThere's no question about that. The military is very highly regarded across all age groups, including the young.
REHMAnd final comment from Erin in Ann Arbor, who says, "Thank you for bringing up the generational baggage of the boomers. I was born in 1981. I see optimism and a sense of urgency in everyone of my age similarly engaged in the political process. The collective fear of my cohort seems to be that the boomer generation will have broken the country before my own generation has a chance to fix it." Fascinating comments this morning. Thank you all so much for joining us.
LEONHARDTDavid Leonhardt of The New York Times, Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute, Morley Winograd of the Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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