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A wish list for millennials, as they come into their own

BIG LAKES, COOL CITIES: What does the coveted millennial generation want from its home state? (Photo by Flickr user Andrew McFarlane; used under Creative Commons license0

BIG LAKES, COOL CITIES: What does the coveted millennial generation want from its home state? (Photo by Flickr user Andrew McFarlane; used under Creative Commons license0

How are those resolutions coming? Though we may be knee-deep into 2014 if you’re counting in attempted trips to the gym, in reality, it’s still the early in a year that promises to be a busy one for Michigan, and millennials like myself have a number of hopes and expectations for the year. A full decade into adulthood, this generation is just beginning to make our mark, and our influence grows every year. Perhaps 2014 is a good time to start paying attention to what the impact could look like, and why.

Here are a few things Michigan millennials will be watching and planning for this year:

Shining a light on dark money. Happy election year! Our governor celebrated the occasion by quietly signing into law a bill that secures the anonymity of issue-ad donors and doubles campaign donor limits. By shifting the ability to influence politics from the rich to the richer, Snyder is shifting it away from the soon-to-be largest voting block in American history, who also happen to be highly sensitive to wealth inequality.

Millennials are trapped between monumental education debt and a job market still struggling to recover, creating a historic wealth inequality between us and baby boomers. Meanwhile the wealthy have grown wealthier, and now they can buy more power in Lansing.

My generation’s most-feared consequence of the wealth gap is not that we won’t get to buy the vacation homes our parents did, but the direct translation of all that unattainable money into political influence. It’s nothing short of dystopian. Don’t expect millennials to take this ever-darkening of political money lying down. Money does determine many elections, but not all of them. These are the circumstances that inspire people to fight back and vote against gobs of cash. So thanks for the inspiration, Governor.

Lower college costs with surplus. Woo-hoo! We have a surplus! We’re rich! Well, Michigan apparently is, for the moment, but not us. The millennial “us” are still struggling with our average of $29,400 in student loans. How did we get here? Well, considering a bachelor’s degree is a requirement to get pretty much any job over minimum wage and four years at Michigan State University now costs about $100,000, it’s really no wonder at all.

The price of college must go down. Whether still in school or already graduated, millennials should hope every penny of the projected budget surplus goes to public universities. Even those of us for whom lowered college costs would come too late don’t want to live with the economic results of more college grads sprinting into the job market with loan payments that suck up half their first decade of paychecks. Let them buy stuff like houses and lawnmowers and beer, and we’ll all be better for it.

More women, please. The proportion of women to men in Michigan government is abysmal. Personally, it gives me a stomachache. It keeps me up nights. And I’m not alone.

Female millennials are not alone in their expectation that power will and should be evenly distributed between men and women. As authors and researchers Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais wrote in the National Journal, “The attitude of the millennial generation…that will have most impact on the daily lives of Americans is the distinctive and historically unprecedented belief that there are no inherently male or female roles in society.”

Millennial men and women truly care about equality and government that is an accurate representation of the electorate. It’s a good year to consider the impact predicted by Winograd and Hais, as we’re bound to start making it apparent at the polls.

Marriage equality cometh. It was a frustrating day in October when a federal judge delayed ruling on the marriage equality case that could have opened the doors for everyone to marry his or her chosen partner. When the trial resumes in February, millennials will absolutely expect justice to prevail and marriage to become equal in our state. Polls show that a whopping 81 percent of adults 18-29 support marriage equality. Though it seems there’s little we can do to make an impact before that point, if the ruling goes any other way, rest assured there will be action, and millennials will be in the throes of it.

Big, attractive, exciting ideas. While Michigan should be concerned with the demands of its own millennials, it should also be focused on how to attract those outside the state.

Nationwide, the economic development world is tripping all over itself to lure millennials with big ideas centered on incentivizing innovation and creating livable communities where young professionals want to call home.

Bear in mind that “livable” doesn’t mean public art and high rises. Vocativ’s recent livability index measured the best cities for people 35 and under, with measurements far more in tune with what millennials are looking for, such as internet access, music venues, public transportation and the average cost of living, including rent, groceries, and – ahem – beer.

Michigan is not without great ideas that address some of these criteria. A great example is the new Write-a-House program in Detroit that rewards resident writers with homeownership. It’s a fabulous idea, and we need more of them. We need dozens of them. Because as much as older Michiganders may be tired of hearing about the demands of their own millennials, there’s no doubt that in order to thrive, the state is going to need a lot more of us, this year and beyond.

Natalie Burg has lived in six Michigan cities, but most recently put down stakes in Ann Arbor. Her book, “Swedish Lessons: A memoir of sects, love and indentured servitude” was released last year. She’s a little obsessed with trying new veggie- or fish-based twists on Eggs Benedict. The views and assertions of guest columnists do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

7 comments from Bridge readers.Add mine!

  1. Joe

    Doubling the campaign donor limits seams fair to me considering the limit has remained unchanged since the 1970’s. (Which is lower than the inflation rate during that time span) Imagine all the influence and power the rich had back then.

  2. morley winograd

    Thanks for the shout out. Keep working at restoring Michigan’s greatness.

  3. Barry Visel

    I read you comments this morning and have been thinking about them all day, in an unsettling way. My first reaction…”Good grief, gimme, gimme gimme”. That remains my main reaction. Beyond that, I think millennial’s need to engage their grandparents, and more importantly, their great grandparents, if they are still with us, and ask about their life experiences, and how they WORKED for what they wanted out of life. I don’t think they asked for stuff to be given to them. Finally, you presumably speak for Milleniums as if you know what they all want…just like many elected officials speak for “the American people”. I can assure you, I’ve never given any of those people permission to speak on my behalf. If you want to write about your thoughts and ideas, fine, but don’t pretend you know that others agree with you.

    Ps: I certainly hope none of my tax dollars arê supporting homes for writers in Detroit…Good Grief!

  4. Duane

    This sure seems more of what Ms. Burg wants than it is about the millenials coming into their own. It seems its what others should be dong for them than what they shold be doing for others.

    Is she really thinking about campaign laws and millenials or is it she doesn’t like who is being elected? I suspect Ms. Burg will be making the same complaints about the millenials when they have the money to donate as she is about all pior generations now.

    When Mr. Burg complains about budget surplus is about education or is that she just wants to spend other people’s money. The reality is that there are go jobs, a certified welder, that doesn’t require a college degree. She seems more concerned about the lifestyle of college graduates then she seems to be about the fiscal stability of our State government and good jobs in Michigan.

    When Ms. Burg talks about more woment in government (I assume elective office, not state employees) could it be she can only sees the stereo types of prejudice and voting patterns, and ignores that women have a choice to run or not? In my community when women run they are elected, locally for the past few elections it has been a women who held office, Republican or Democrat, and I expect this year it will be the same. I wonder if Ms. Burg thinks the Legislators should be decide by population profile and not by public elections, that women should be given office without regard to the choices of the voters.

    When Ms. Burg talks about marriage equality does she really care about the needs and benefits for current couples and future couples or does she just see the politics of one group. Has she even considered partners and their families other than same sex partners? Has she ever considered how many issues that current laws don’t address, or does she only see laws are poltiical tools rather than for the benefit of the community as a whole?

    When Ms. Burg talks about big ideas, is that just about more spending and more government and no concern about the consequences. Does she not understand that the ‘disrupters’ of society have been small ideas that were proven before they had a big impact.

    Does Ms. Burg only think in her poltical interest and never consider others and how we have come so far in the lifetimes of the generations that have create this current bounty for her and the millenials. Is she so demanding of instant political gratification that she justifies everything on a very small sampling of the populations opinions and distains public discussion? Is she so self center that she is unwilling to learn how change really occurs and listen to others? Is she so uneducated that she doesn’t understand that instant change will collapse like a house of cards if isn’t first built on a foundation of thought, of trial and error and learning, on respect for others and listening, and on hard work?

    Ms. Burg seems to want and want, but never seems to offer respect for those she expects to do if for her.

  5. lahsth

    My wish list for millenials in society is they should start dealing with the increase in child abuse rates and child deaths they’ve contributed to since they’ve started having children. It’s gone up, thanks to millenials.

  6. Dave

    Wow. None of these are the main issues millennials face except college costs. The solution of giving the surplus to the state university’s is equivalent to giving the surplus to the City of Detroit. It only holds down tuition increases for a year but they will be in the same spot the following year without structural changes to their spending (wages, benefits, shiny new administrative buildings/gyms). How about some fiscal responsibility instead of throwing money at the problem. Why do students have to pay the universities for “internship” classes that require no oversight by the professor but cost the same as regular classes? Throwing money at the problem wont fix it! No political agenda here.

    1. Amy

      Right on, Dave!!

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