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Millennials’ lack of trust part of global trend

Pew Research Center’s survey of American millennials, particularly their lack of trust in institutions or other people, transported me back to Morocco. I’ll get to why in a moment. But first, there are two data points I need to highlight for my trip down memory lane to have any relevance.

According to the Pew poll, millennials (folks between 18-years-old and 33-years-old) are “unmoored from institutions.” They are political independents (50 percent) with no religious affiliation (29 percent).

Pew points out that these statistics “are at or near the highest levels of political and religious disaffiliation recorded for any generation in the last quarter-century.”

Then there was the trust question. “Generally speaking,” Pew asked, “would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people.” While boomers are the most trusting (40 percent), millennials trust others the least (19 percent).

Now back to Morocco. One of the takeaways from a panel I moderated on managing global disruptions at the German Marshall Fund’s Atlantic Dialogues conference there last October was that trust in institutions was eroding around the world and not just among American millennials. According to Dr. Jane Holl Lute, president and CEO of the Council on Cybersecurity and a former deputy secretary at the department of homeland security, “the most significant disruption, bar none” of the past five to 10 years is the intersection of two trends.

The trend of growth is an unmistakable cyber awakening that’s accompanying the penetration of the internet….[W]e are all now instantaneously aware and connected, not only to information but to others who share our cause.
The trend of decay, which is contributing to the disruption that nations are facing, is the near total collapse of public trust in public institutions, and it’s true globally. So what we are seeing fundamentally is the rise of the human being taking matters into their own hands, and one might only say, it’s about time.

Lute expanded on her trust theme by tying together recent uprisings around the world by citizens against their governments or leading institutions.

I think what we saw in Brazil, in Turkey, throughout the Middle East, in the occupy movement on Wall Street in the United States is a reflection that people around the world are angry. They’re angry. And this anger, at least seems to me, not to be a purpose-driven anger. When you have purpose-driven anger, people kill each other.
This is an anxiety-based anger. And I think it stems from the fact that, you know, we don’t trust the media, we don’t trust the markets, we don’t trust our governments in many cases. You know, we can’t trust the dollar or the euro or many institutions have fallen from the pedestals that we’ve put them on over the course of our lives and we’re angry about it. And I think basically we’re angry that we feel as though we’ve lost the ability to architect trust in public space. That’s deeply destabilizing and deeply disruptive in my view.

What Lute says is pretty sobering. As are the Pew poll numbers. Yet, despite all that distrust of institutions and other people, the pew poll shows that American millennials are the most upbeat about the future. An overwhelming majority of them (85 percent) believe they “earn/have enough now” or “will in future.” And according to Pew, 49 percent of millennials believe “the country’s best years are ahead.”

That’s the highest of the four generations surveyed. It also is a sign that despite fraying trust all is not lost.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj