By James Ferencsik.
“Think about what Martin Luther King, Jr. was saying. Think about what he was saying about a whole group of people left out of a process, and then think about the age old saying of ‘children should be seen and then not heard’.” On a rare occasion, a single quote can cut to the heart of a matter. Congressman John Larson (D-CT) did that. Several weeks ago, Larson, the former Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, announced that he would introduce a resolution to form a Presidential Youth Council. The Council, he argued, was not just a matter of justice but also of common sense. It is time that youth actually had some say in youth-related policy.
Youth face real and pressing issues. Student loan debt now equals nearly ten percent of GDP. Youth unemployment is double the national average, and 41% of all college graduates within the last two years are overqualified for their jobs. Despite the severity of these challenges, youth have little to no representation in government to deal with these concerns. No one under the age of 25 can serve in Congress, and there is currently no Congressional or Presidential organization composed of youth that handles youth issues. We are supposed to trust senior lawmakers to understand the modern concerns of youth and formulate policy in response.
If this were working, the federal government would not be spending 19 times more on Social Security and Medicare than it does on education. If this were working, more than 29% of youth would believe that they have a say in government. The fact of the matter is that the system is not working and we need a new channel for youth representation.
The creation of a Presidential Youth Council would provide that channel. The proposed Council would advise the President on the perspectives of young people, offer suggestions on how to make federally-funded youth programs more efficient and effective, and create recommendations on issues that will affect the long term future of our country. The Council would be comprised of twenty-four young people ages sixteen to twenty-four. The Congressional leadership of each party would select twelve members, representing the geographical, racial, and socioeconomic diversity of America. In addition, the Council would be privately funded, so there would be no expense to taxpayers. This would provide a practical yet effective channel to remedy problems not only youth but also the whole country face.
The United States, as a nation, does not have the same sense of civic duty that it did thirty years ago. This has allowed unscrupulous special interests to step in and manipulate “the will of the people” to favor themselves. This has only been exacerbated after Citizens United, a Supreme Court case prohibiting limitations on “independent” political expenditures, which further dilutes the voice of the average American. The result of these major societal changes is systemically myopic public policy – which disproportionately hurts youth. With functional, forward-thinking policy, the fight over Stafford Loan rates this summer would have never occurred. Youth engagement, vis-à-vis a Presidential Youth Council, can help shift the public conversation to focus more on proactive and forward-thinking public policy. Issues like education reform and immigration reform would soon find their way back into national political conversations. This would benefit the entire country – not just youth. This idea and the prospect of its immense benefits are not beyond reach.
The idea of a Presidential Youth Council enjoys broad support at a grassroots and national political level. So far, well over 100 independent organizations, ranging from statewide Young Democrats and Republicans organizations to the State Farm Youth Advisory Board, have endorsed the idea. In addition, college student governments from California to Connecticut have passed resolutions in support. In Congress, Representative Larson is building a strong bipartisan coalition to propel the bill forward. At the same event where Congressman Larson announced the introduction of the bill, Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut declared his own support and asked of anyone in opposition to the resolution, “How do we build the citizens of the future if we are going to wall off those citizens of the future from participation when they’re young?” Despite this groundswell of support, the idea of the Council will have to fight to stay relevant. As Congress and the nation must contend with the prospects of a government shutdown and a war with Syria, it is essential to prevent the idea of a Presidential Youth Council from drowning in a sea of noise. It is up to supporters across the country to maintain incessant pressure on lawmakers. Calling Congressmen, lobbying student governments to pass supportive resolutions, and even raising awareness through social media are steps that can have a huge impact on bringing a Presidential Youth Council into fruition. This will not be easy, but everything worth having is worth fighting for.
In closing his remarks, Governor Malloy said he had a very clear message for youth. “Don’t be discouraged. Don’t give up. Don’t stop pushing. Don’t stop making your voices heard.” Right now, there is too much at stake for youth to shy away from this conversation. This idea matters and, while centered in Washington, D.C., will reverberate back all across the country and for years to come. It is long past time that youth had a greater say in our government, but, hopefully, we have reached that time.