Don’t trust me anymore (or, the value of youth engagement)

As I officially age out of the “youth” demographic (seems to go on a while, doesn’t it?), I wanted to take a moment to say that young people are actually kinda important and we should go ahead and listen to them from time to time.

And if you think young people don’t care, aren’t informed, or whatever other negative stereotype you want to throw out there, you’re mistaken.

In the 2012 presidential election, young people 18-29 (that was me!), had a 45% turn out rate. Folks 30 and up, on the other hand, voted at rate of 66%. Okay, let’s dig into those numbers a bit.

About half of all young people have no college experience. Half. The 2012 turnout rate among folks with no college experience was 28.6%. That compares to the 55.9% turnout of their college-educated peers.

I’m getting these numbers from my brilliant colleagues over at the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). Go ahead and check it out.

Add to that the fact that it can be more complicated to vote when you’re first registering, and those numbers start to look a little different.

When I first tried to vote, I registered in my home state of California and requested an absentee ballot be sent to my Massachusetts address. The absentee ballot arrived about a month after the election.  So, then I decided to vote from Massachusetts. I registered through some group that was canvassing on campus. And then….my name wasn’t on the voter rolls. Special thanks to the poll workers who let me cast a provisional ballot, though.

I haven’t had any such complications since.

With a flurry of new – or discussion of new – voting laws in many states, registering and voting is getting more complicated then ever.

It doesn’t seem that hard to figure out when you’re already registered and just have to roll up to the same polling place twice a year or more, but trust me. It really is kind of complicated.

But, what I really want to talk about is the half of the population that has no college experience.

Now, I don’t mean to turn this into a discussion of whether or not everyone should go to college, but the reality is that college provides a significant amount of resources, skills, and social capital that is not generally available to people outside it’s walls.

So you end up with a system where folks who have some resources get themselves in a ton a debt for more resources, while folks who have few resources…still have no resources.

And worse, yet, those folks with few resources are systematically shut out of civic life. Not just voting – compared to their peers with some college experience, youth with no college experience have lower rates of being involved in a community project, being contacted by a political party, reading the newspaper, attending public meetings, and being a union member. (CIRCLE again).

Not only are they not asked to participate, the system makes it pretty clear that their participation is not wanted. And besides all that, they’ve got serious shit to do.

And having a bunch of grown-ups calling them ne’er-do-wells and scoundrels really doesn’t help too much. You should be encouraging them to have their voices heard.

Genuinely encouraging.

So next time you wonder why the youth in this country play their music loud and don’t care as much as you did when you were their age, please stop and ask yourself – what are the institutional structures perpetuating that activity and what have you done to combat them?

Young people really do have important things to say.

But don’t trust me — I’m over 30.



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