“One shortcoming of the conversation on millennials is that there’s too often a focus on the college campus,” said Brian Stewart, Generation Progress’ communications manager. “But there are issues that impact the entire age bracket. When we sat down to plan the conference, we wanted to be intentional in including others.”
The group identified economic justice, human and civil rights and democracy as their top three interests and invited more than 30 youth-oriented organizations to co-sponsor the event. Among these were Young Invincibles, the League of Young Voters and Rock the Vote, all of which are working to including more non-college and working-class youths in their programs.
According to researchers, it’s about time.
“At the turn of the 20th century, there were many ways in which people with lower levels of education and people in the working class got inducted into American civic life,” said Meira Levinson, an associate professor of education at Harvard University. “We’ve lost many of the mechanisms for empowering those who are not in privileged positions in society.”
“When groups like CAP define youth as college students, they’re leaving out three-fourths of young people who either go to community college, don’t finish college or never go at all,” said Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. “The working class used to be more engaged, but the bottom is falling out.”
With schools, churches and unions providing less civic education, Levinson says, the disparities in civic opportunity might be greater than they were 50 or 100 years ago. Just last year, 18- to 24-year-olds who didn’t have a college diploma were three times less likely to vote in the presidential election than those who did.
At the conference Wednesday — between Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s address on college affordability and a panel on gun violence prevention — attendee and Brown University student Harpo Jaeger, 22, pondered one announcer’s claim that the conference reflected the diversity of millennials
“Who’s in and out of that classification?” Jaeger asked. “There are a lot of people my age who aren’t at this conference. It’s not like no one knows they exist, but it’s so easy for us to not remember because I don’t come across them at Brown. There’s a whole world of people for whom student debt is never going to be an issue because they’re not going to be able to go to college anyway.”
Thomas Nixon, 23, and Umar Muhammad, 26, are just the kind of people Generation Progress hopes to engage more in the future.