Michigan certainly has its challenges ahead, but a generation completely devoid of dreams may be the most significant.
The state’s dreary economy, the lackluster job outlook as well as “skyrocketing” gas prices are the daily downers for today’s Millennials, according to Generational Opportunity, a non-partisan, non-profit 501(c)4 organization.
Its recent Michigan Tour had stops in Ann Arbor, Hillsdale, Kalamazoo, Holland, Grand Rapids, Detroit and beyond. The idea was to find out what these students, recent college graduates and working families had to say about the state of the state and the impact of Michigan’s down times on their overall lives.
The results were largely depressing. The economy is wretched, there is a definitive lack of opportunity here and steep gas prices have people feeling isolated from friends and family. Sadly, these opinions are hardly unique, Paul T. Conway, president of Generation Opportunity, told me this week. These are the same feelings this age group is feeling across the board throughout the United States, according to surveys the group did last year.
Here’s my point in bringing these seemingly pessimistic and somewhat obvious facts before you. The state, Southeast Michigan and Detroit proper still has a huge gap between where we want to be and where we truly are. And that there should be no hesitation to do something about it.
Now, Generation Opportunity is a fine group, and I appreciate their Michigan tour. The organization’s goal, Conway said, is to educate and mobilize Millennials on issues of job growth, debt and federal spending and American competitiveness. (Some bloggers have accused the group of being far too Republican for their tastes; I can see their points for the most part.)
Yet any organization that is willing to sit down with students from Wayne State, Michigan State, the University of Michigan and elsewhere is taking the right steps in my mind. Here they were, asking a particularly hard-hit demographic about how they felt about the world around them…and these young people are feeling increasingly frustrated with the options being put before them, Conway said.
The Millennials are a noteworthy group because they are telling Generation Opportunity that they feel their dreams should be delayed because of the Recession, the Recovery and everything in between.
Rather than buying a home, saving for retirement or starting a family, this generation feels they are better off living in a holding pattern, Conway said. That means this group is not as invested in their communities – something that will ultimately come back to hurt all of us as homeowners, workers and parents with children attending school.
Putting your life on hold because things feel or seems so bad that there’s no way you can achieve the American Dream? That’s an ugly reality. And that’s the point of these surveys and state visits, Conway noted. This is a message many Americans aren’t hearing. Many might think of Millennials as a generation of spoiled, social-media addicts…(which they probably are).
But they’re also tuned into news and information gathering like no others. And they see and are feeling something significant. And it’s worth dissecting further.
“It won’t be our only trip (to Michigan) that’s for sure,” Conway said.
I’d welcome Generation Opportunity back with open arms. I’m curious to figure out what the state – what all states – can do to make this better. Conway said the 18-29 year-old demographic wants to feel like their voices are heard, and that they can make changes. Don’t we all?
“The key to this is … you’re power hasn’t been diminished. (The future) is still in your hands. You can still make a difference,” Conway said. “We think it’s an opportunity for people to remain in the process and not drop out of it.”