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Generation Y

Why Generation Y Won’t Go To Washington

Thousands of Americans woke up yesterday unsure where their next paycheck will come from. Others found their vacations to national parks cut short. Still others found the frustration of the federal bureaucracy even more frustrating, with fewer federal workers around to handle their questions.

Thousands of Americans woke up yesterday unsure where their next paycheck will come from. Others found their vacations to national parks cut short. Still others found the frustration of the federal bureaucracy even more frustrating, with fewer federal workers around to handle their questions.

Welcome to the government shutdown. Congress missed its midnight deadline to keep the government running and now must cobble together a compromise.

XYZ University would like to take a moment during this government crisis to address another crisis lurking on the Capitol steps.

Did you know? The U.S. has the oldest Congress in history and the oldest Senate in more than a century. Elected officials are aging, and younger generations are abandoning Washington. In fact, a recent article in “The Atlantic” researched the “hate” younger generations have for public service and politics.

Forget what you’ve read about the “trophy generation.” Here are four things you probably don’t know about the 80 million Americans born between 1981 and 1995 (Generation Y, ages 18-31).

  • This generation is fiercely committed to community service. Among college students, the volunteerism rate is a remarkable 53%, of which 41% say they serve at least a few times a month.
  • They don’t see politics or government as a way to improve their communities, their country, or the world.
  • This generation is rejecting public service as a career path. As Baby Boomers retire from government and politics, Washington is staring down a “brain drain.”
  • The only way this generation might engage in Washington is if they first radically change it.

This generation could rescue the civic health of our nation after decades of decline because, like their grandparents (the Silent Generation, 1925-1945), they are products of an era of economic crisis and war, and they are committed to community service.Not only does this generation volunteer more than any of the other generations, Ys are also more concerned with the importance of their work than the salary attached to it. Wired to the world, they are also more likely than past generations to see the globe’s problems as their own.That’s the good news.

The bad news is Generation Y is increasingly negative and cynical about the political process. According to the Survey of Young Americans’ Attitudes Toward Politics and Public Service:

47% agree that “politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing”; and51% believe that when government runs something it is usually wasteful and inefficient.

There was likely a moment between the reelection campaigns of George W. Bush and Barack Obama when the case could have been made to Generation Y that government is transcendent. But instead, they came of age in a period of polarization and gridlock; the president they supported could not overcome it.

Generation Y has no patience for inefficiency, stodgy institutions or the status quo, and they want results – all reasons why they are disengaging from public service and government work.

In fact, just 6 percent of college students plan to work for public sector institutions, and only 2.3 percent want to work at the federal level.

Yet, as Baby Boomers approach retirement, the federal government will need to hire more than 200,000 highly skilled workers for a range of critical jobs. The successful transition of our nation depends on the interest of Generation Y–the largest generation in history.

To Gen Y, the world is filled with injustice and need, but government isn’t the solution. They are more likely to be social entrepreneurs, working outside government to create innovative and measurably successful solutions to the nation’s problems, even if only on a relatively small scale.

Predicting the future of U.S. government is challenging, but this much is certain: the government in existence today isn’t engaging or relevant to the future majority. And sooner or later, change won’t just be a campaign slogan anymore. It will become a reality.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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