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January 10, 2014 9:42 AM How Patient Are Millennials About the Economy?

By Ed Kilgore

In his weekly column for National Journal, Ron Brownstein notes that the Millennial Generation, 90 million strong, is now the nation’s largest. But the question he poses is whether the rapid liberalizing of culturally-inflected polices like medical marijuana legalization or same-sex marriage attributable to the growing power of millennials—and the Democratic Party’s identification with this trend—will perpetually matter more than the limited economic opportunities for millennials:

On Tuesday, Young Invincibles, a group that advocates for young adults, issued a bracing report that noted the unemployment rate for millennials (which it defined as workers 18-34) has remained stuck in double-digits for 70 consecutive months. Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce has likewise found young workers today losing ground compared with previous generations in wages, workforce participation, and net worth, with the losses deepest for younger men. Add in mounting student debt, as well as delays in family formation and homeownership, and phrases like “lost generation” don’t seem excessive….
Cultural affinity still provides a political edge for Democrats (millennials gave Obama two-thirds of their votes in 2008 and three-fifths in 2012). But to cement that loyalty, the party “has to make the economy work for more people,” says Simon Rosenberg, president of NDN, a Democratic group that studies the generation.
The larger issue transcends political advantage. Neither party is displaying sufficient urgency about a generational economic crisis that for too many young people will cascade through their lives with lower wages and diminished opportunities. The political system’s response to the millennials’ economic distress must be something more than, as a modern Marie Antoinette might put it, to let them smoke pot.

In appealing to millennials, Republicans are held back both by their own powerful culturally traditionalist wing and by an unwillingness to do much about economic trends other than stand aside and blame every problem on government or on the unemployed themselves. But millennials won’t be patient about the economy forever, and Democrats should understand that.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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