Why Millennials Are Losing Faith in Our Government

With the federal government shutdown now a week old and no end in sight, Congress's actions are starting to take a toll on millennials frustrated by the lack of compromise. We may get 24/7 updates on the shutdown, but at this point our generation's frustration with government is old news.

Our generation's young people are increasingly realizing that government is not serving its intended purpose. Today, only 25% of young people believe that the country is headed in the right direction. Instead, we and have turned to volunteering and activism as the primary methods to bring about the change that we we want to see.

With this trend in mind, I spoke with a group of high school students from the National Youth Leadership Council to get their thoughts on the shutdown and see if their views of government have changed because of the stalemate in Congress, all of whom had a maturity most Americans would like to see reflected in their representatives.

"I'm disappointed that Congress has lost sight of the fact that they're supposed to be representing the American people, not themselves," said Sujay, 16, who is considering a career in politics. "The Republicans are acting childish and like sore-losers, and it makes me want to be better than that."

But not all young people see Republicans as being the main impediment to productivity in Congress.

"In his 2008 campaign, President Obama made a lot of promises to young people and he hasn't kept most of them," said Meaghan, 16. "He's left young people behind and I feel ignored and downright given up on. Millennials are not selfish; we just have to fend for ourselves."

It's statements like this that make the lower youth voter turnout in the 2012 election unsurprising. Only 45% of people aged 18-29 voted in 2012, down from nearly 50% in 2008. 

"After watching all the debates in 2012, I refused to vote for anyone because I didn't know who to believe. They didn't know what they stood for, so why should I know who I stand for?" said Dominic, 18. 

Meaghan added that she sees her political future advocating for change rather than legislating it.

"The shutdown is inspiring me to want to get into the political field as a volunteer and make a difference that way. Just going to the ballot box doesn't make you politically engaged, you have to experience the issues in the community."

Millennials also make up part of the 800,000 furloughed federal workers affected by this shutdown. Sam, 15, works for the Navy Academy Athletic Association and was told that there was no work for two weeks.

"I need that job, and I want to do something so that I can get back to work," said Sam.

Other millennials like Tony, 17, are glad to see Democrats defending President Obama's Affordable Care Act, widely seen as the cornerstone of his domestic policy.

"It's refreshing to see the Dems standing up and not giving in," said Tony.

And the families of millennials are also taking a financial hit. Kenny, 16, whose father is a security officer for the U.S. District Court in Charlotte, NC, still has a dad on the job because he's considered "essential." But not every millennial like Kenny is as fortunate.

"What about the kids whose parents aren't getting paid because they're 'non-essential' who might be living paycheck-to-paycheck? Congress should realize that paychecks are 'essential' for those families too," he pointed out.

If the shutdown drags out for much longer, any inspiration found from Congress's ineptitude may be lost for a generation all too familiar with politicians' failings. Is this stalemate really worth the cost?

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Dan Peltier

Graduating in May 2014 with degrees in Journalism and Political Science from UMass Amherst and I'm hunting for a job. I studied abroad in Rome, Italy spring 2013 and got to witness amazing history and see unbelievable sights. I enjoy following and writing about LGBTQ rights/marriage equality/gender identity, the politics of the U.S. Christian Right and its influences both domestically and abroad, and blogging about my travels. When I'm not writing, I'm either running, reading, or planning my next trip!

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