Prescott Indivisible is delighted to announce the debut of The Youth Perspective, a monthly column written by our intern Toby Chang. The Youth Perspective aims to share a uniquely Gen Z viewpoint on the topics, issues, and challenges of the day that younger folks find important.
We value the opinions and insights of the generations who will inherit the decades to come. This project is an effort intended to promote understanding through listening and engagement with a perspective many of us don’t get enough of… the Youth Perspective!
April 2022: Top Political Issues for the Youth of Today
Too often are the youth of America exploited as pawns in the political arena. In any critical area of interest such as education or substance abuse, candidates are presented as empathetic to the struggles of parenthood, with the interests of children in mind. But the challenges that our youth face should not be just a political trope. With struggles morphing alongside a continually and rapidly developing world, teenagers feel lost and without a voice. With their well-being near the top of every agenda, and in addition to Gen Z’s increased enthusiasm for political activism, one would expect to hear their voices represented fairly in these issues.
Just months before the 2020 election, 79% of teenagers said that the pandemic has “…helped them realize that politics impact their everyday lives,” according to a survey conducted by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). They also found that “70% of young people had gotten information about the 2020 election on social media and 36% reported posting political content in the week prior.”
Civic interest among the younger generation is now at a new peak. It’s more important than ever to not only listen to what the members of the youth community have to say, but to also present them with the tools and opportunities they need to make a difference. Prevailing issues on young minds today include social justice concerns, gun control, climate change, higher education, and freedom of speech.
National Public Radio (NPR) ranks Gen Z as the most ethnically diverse generation to date. An analysis published by Stanford University reports that race is one of the leading issues teenagers, and particularly those teens from lower-income backgrounds care about. It also reports that “…gender issues were more likely at schools serving more affluent and white students.” The dynamics of Gen Z’s upbringings position equality as a major concern.
A recent poll by the website Love to Know found that 90% of teens—males and females alike—expressed a desire for equality of opportunity within the workplace. Similar findings were reported on the issue of gender identity, with a growing proportion of teenagers considering themselves to be tolerant towards the LGBT community (CBS News). Even among faith groups traditionally against LGBT equality, the vast majority of Gen-Z’ers involved with these religious organizations support LGBT rights. The National Catholic Reporter claims that most religious groups support anti-discrimination laws, reflecting the continued trend towards acceptance.
To voice the changes they seek, teenagers have turned to social media as a powerful and convenient platform for advocacy. With the rise in social media’s usage, injustices such as hate crimes and police brutality rapidly spread and widely circulate around the internet. Online, youth are readily provided with opportunities to learn about issues and events concerning social justice. These resources allow teenagers to interact with a much more diverse audience. This exposure and dialog increase their ability to sympathize with affected communities much more than before. For example, in response to the “Black Lives Matter” movement, while only 12% of teenagers participated in more traditional methods of activism such as protests, Forty-one percent of teenagers posted on social media, as gathered by the data analysis company, Morning Consult.
The youth of America have made it clear that human rights and the respect of others is something they care deeply about, and a matter on which they are willing to work towards change.
As school shootings have increased, especially over the past decade (CNN), the controversial issue of gun control presents itself as a dangerous problem, occupying the minds of many young people. One in three firearms is kept “loaded and unlocked,” according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; a practice which leaves easy access to children and teenagers. There is no denying that America has among the highest firearm related deaths on the planet.
Though some argue that the United States (US) only comes in at 3.96 deaths for every 100,000 people (compared to El Salvador’s 36.77 per 100,000), Politifact confirms that the US takes first place when looking at wealthy, developed nations with populations over 10 million. Shooting incidents in general have also increased in the past two decades, jumping up from three deaths per year in 2000 to 40 deaths per year (Pew Research Center). It makes sense, then, that a Gallup poll in 2018 found that “…a record-high 78% wanted stricter gun laws.”
In 2018, Emma González (age 18) organized public rallies to push for anti-gun legislation, in response to the Stoneman Douglas school shooting that she was a survivor of (CNBC News). She’s shown herself to be a strong leader and exemplifies youth engagement at its best when applied to activism for gun control. At the time, she told CNBC News: “We are tired of practicing school shooter drills and feeling scared of something we should never have to think about.” She’s right— America is, to some extent, alone in the grim, and almost dystopian, need for regular school shooting drills. Britain, for example, has only seen one school shooting in the past two hundred years, as fact-checked by Snopes.
However, the purpose here is not to defend an agenda. Regardless of anyone’s position on the effectiveness of gun control laws, productive conversations and youth initiatives sparked around the country demonstrate this aspect of our democracy. What is needed is greater accessibility to enriching and educating resources for young people. Exposure to sensitive topics such as firearm regulation will create a much more informed future electorate who can make decisions and changes that will benefit the entire nation.
With legislation such as the “Green New Deal” and “Build Back Better” actively discussed in the news media, there’s a surge in debate over the delicate balance between the welfare of the economy and the environmental hazards that repeatedly result without adequate regulation. Where long-term thinking has too often been overshadowed by corporate greed and legislative failures, many teenagers seek to engage with this issue, particularly as it is a problem that will directly impact future generations to come,
A lawsuit filed in 2015 by a group of youth claimed that numerous actions of the federal government directly contributed and encouraged climate change. Though this case, Juliana v. United States is still pending at the time of this writing, it serves as a demonstration of the fervor with which teenagers are approaching this subject. It’s small wonder why Gen Z’ers are passionate about this— after all, this is their planet, too. They are the ones who will suffer down the line, while many of the lawmakers of today won’t be around to witness the consequences of their actions and inactions.
Love to Know claims that a quarter of annual child deaths could have been prevented with. “…[improved] environmental factors like water or air,” once more stressing the profound cost and severity of environmental degradation. More information about our carbon footprint is researched and released in this age more than ever.
Access to this research has heightened awareness nationally, as well as in our schools. Such advances reflect the value of climate consciousness among youth, which involves training them and exposing them to the role of the policy-making process. Being informed is the first step to improving the present climate and bettering the future of our environmental resources.
In economics, the concept of price elasticity is, put simply, how willing people are to pay for a service. For example, drug manufacturers can charge unreasonable prices for lifesaving, necessary products like insulin, because people need it. In the same way that diabetics are willing to spend any amount of money on insulin, many college students are willing to pay an excessive fee for a degree. In this way, universities have held a monopoly over the American workforce.
Aggregate student loan debt in the United States in 2020 stood at $1.56 trillion dollars—
and there’s no doubt that that number has only gotten larger since then. Despite this, a 2016 “Teens & Personal Finance Survey” conducted by Junior Achievement USA showed that the expense of college did not influence attendance—only four percent of respondents replied that they would be “less likely to go to college,” as a result of the discussion around student debt.
The idea mainstreamed today to young people that college is the only route forward for them could be incredibly detrimental. Financing college not only accumulates massive debt, but such a demanding focus on college as the solution also narrows students’ choices and fails to offer alternative pathways. It’s very important for students to have a choice in their education and to be cognizant that they have viable alternatives that may better align with their interests and passions.
Overall, students don’t feel that they have a choice. According to Fox News, providing cheaper and sometimes even better alternatives at state colleges and apprenticeships may prove to be very effective at reducing debt, while also providing an education and experience that is up to industry standards. In fact, an infographic released by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction features a graph that shows how students who undergo apprenticeships consistently earn more lifelong income than do those with a bachelor’s degree. The graph illustrates that (accounting for raises) the average public university student will earn around $974,000 in 25 years, while an individual who earlier served as an apprentice might earn almost $1,400,000 in the same time span.
Though research shows that teens aren’t dissuaded by college debt, the willingness of teens to go into such debt for a four-year college degree means that high school and early college students may not be fully aware of long-term impacts. Not only is the immediate future a major source of general stress, but also, upcoming high schoolers, current university students, and even alumni may not fully grasp how inflation and insufficient wages will saddle how long they’ll be affected by student debt.
Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research describes these effects in a Squared Away blog post that attributes debt as “…a barrier to homeownership and a cause of bankruptcy among young adults.”
And when all is said and done, one issue for this generation perhaps subtly overshadows all the others. The concept of free speech is not just important, but also necessary for the survival of a democratic republic. And though it is agreed on by US citizens that freedom of speech is important, over half of Americans polled say that they do not speak freely out of fear of retaliation, according to the Siena College Research Institute.
Aggressive politics underscore how greatly divided our nation is. The idea of political correctness and over-sensitivity are matters of frequent criticism directed towards younger generations. As mentioned above, Gen Z, as a more diverse generation, has witnessed and enjoyed that diversity as more of norm and therefore, with a greater degree of tolerance than previous generations had the opportunity to experience.
Though this type of tolerance reflects positive change, as with any socio-political idea, even the concept of tolerance can be dangerous when taken to an extreme. On one side of the coin, equality of opportunity and basic human decency are values and experiences that should be celebrated. But on the other hand, the relinquishment of rights to beliefs and to freedom of expression will cripple this nation. It is therefore crucial that this generation does not prioritize their fear of offending someone over retaining this fundamental right.
Disagreement, when fostered correctly, is the essence of productivity. There is a good reason that the right to freedom of expression is enshrined in the very First Amendment: Not a single idea or issue matters if civil discourse is disallowed. Dissent is the oxygen of democracy. If opposing opinions are not heard, civic society will not thrive; it will be stuck in a perpetual echo chamber, being fed beliefs instead of culminating them. As the future voters, workers, and policymakers, this matters for youth more than for anyone—they must be heard. Heard, and informed.
Looking at polls and statistics will only take us so far. As with every other community, it’s important to view each young person as an individual with unique characteristics, values, and ideas, instead of prioritizing stereotypes and politics over our own people. Our youth have clearly expressed their passions and desire for change. What they lack is an outlet. What they lack is a community that will readily embrace them and what they have to say.
It is our duty, as a society, to present today’s youth with the tools and the opportunities to see their own potential. To put faith in this new generation is to hope for a brighter future for America. To listen to the voices of the young and to make the right decisions on their behalf is to envision a land with leaders who can proudly stand for their values and their people.
Boston College Center for Retirement Research, Squared Away. “College Debt = Student Stress.” Accessed 3/26. Available at https://squaredawayblog.bc.edu/squared-away/college-debt-student-stress/
Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) Accessed 3/15. Available at https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/poll-young-people-believe-they-can-lead-change-unprecedented-election-cycle
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Center for Violence Prevention. “Gun Violence: Facts and Statistics.” Accessed 3/23. Available at https://violence.chop.edu/gun-violence-facts-and-statistics
CNN. Accessed 3/15. “10 Years. 180 School Shootings. 356 Victims.” Available at https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2019/07/us/ten-years-of-school-shootings-trnd/
Davis, D.L. Politifact. “United States’ gun deaths are among highest in the world, but only the highest by one measure.” Accessed 3/23. Available at https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2021/sep/17/melissa-agard/united-states-gun-deaths-are-among-highest-world-o/
Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight. “College alternatives: Changing views on degrees.” Accessed 3/26. Available at https://video.foxnews.com/v/5779692729001
Gramlich, John. Pew Research Center. “What the data says about gun deaths in the US.” Accessed 3/23. Available at https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/02/03/what-the-data-says-about-gun-deaths-in-the-u-s/
Jones, Abigail. Newsweek. “What Do American Teens Want? Less Racism.”Accessed 3/15. Available at https://www.newsweek.com/2016/05/27/american-teenagers-race-458942.html
Jones, Jeffrey M. Gallup. “U.S. Preference for Stricter Gun Laws Highest Since 1993.” Accessed 3/26. Available at https://news.gallup.com/poll/229562/preference-stricter-gun-laws-highest-1993.aspx
Junior Achievement USA, Teens and Personal Finance Survey. “2016 Teens and Personal Finance Survey Executive Summary.” Accessed 3/23. Available at https://www.juniorachievement.org/documents/20009/20652/2016+Teens+and+Personal+Finane+Survey/3af810ff-2fc2-4e98-a2f6-d9bf1ba121ce
LaCapria, Kim. Snopes. “No School Shootings in the United Kingdom Since Handguns Were Banned?” Accessed 4/2. Available at https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/dunblane-school-shootings-ban/
Meleen, Michele. Love to Know. “Political Issues Teens Are Interested In.” Accessed 3/15. Available at https://teens.lovetoknow.com/Political_Issues_Teens_are_Interested_In
Mejia, Zameena. CNBC News. “3 reasons Gen Z activists have changed the gun control conversation when no one else could.” Accessed 3/15. Available at https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/14/how-gen-z-activists-have-changed-the-conversation-around-guns.html
Morning Consult. “How 2020 is Impacting Gen Z’s Worldview.” Accessed 3/23. Available at https://morningconsult.com/form/gen-z-worldview-tracker/
O’Kane, Caitlin. CBS News. “1 in 6 Generation Z adults identify as LGBTQ.” Accessed 3/15. Available at https://www.cbsnews.com/news/lgbtq-identification-generation-z/
Our Children’s Trust. “Juliana v. United States.” Accessed 3/23. Available at https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/juliana-v-us
Packard, Josh, and Henderson-Espinoza, Robyn. National Catholic Reporter. “Refusal to Engage. Gen Z sees gap in support of LGBTQ+ rights among faith groups.” Accessed 3/23. Available at https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/refusal-engage-gen-z-sees-gap-support-lgbtq-rights-among-faith-groups
Siena College, Siena College Research Institute. “84% Say Americans being Afraid to Exercise Freedom of Speech is a Serious Problem.” Accessed 3/15. Available at https://scri.siena.edu/2022/03/21/84-say-americans-being-afraid-to-exercisefreedom-of-speech-is-a-serious-problem/
Spector, Carrie. Stanford University. “What do teens care about? Stanford education researchers uncover top concerns in letters to presidential candidates.” Accessed 3/15. Available at https://ed.stanford.edu/news/what-do-teens-care-about-stanford-education-researchers-uncover-top-concerns-voiced-letters
Wang, Hansi Lo. National Public Radio (NPR), All Things Considered. “Generation Z Is The Most Racially And Ethnically Diverse Yet.” Accessed 3/15. Available at https://www.npr.org/2018/11/15/668106376/generation-z-is-the-most-racially-and-ethnically-diverse-yet
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. “College vs Apprenticeship.” Accessed 3/26. Available at https://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/te/pdf/college_vs_apprenticeship.pdf
Toby Chang is a student at BASIS Prescott with a passion for civic government and politics. Early on in his life, he was exposed to the partisanship and division that has overrun our media, shaping his values on unity and civil discourse.
As a teenager, Chang knows how easy it is for young people to feel voiceless and powerless to take action against the issues that impact them. He believes that equipping them with the opportunities and skills to be civically engaged is the key to securing the future of our democracy.