Forget what you’ve read about the “Me, Me, Me Generation.” Here are four things you probably don’t know about the 95 million Americans born between 1982 and 2003:
- Millennials, in general, are fiercely committed to community service.
- They don’t see politics or government as a way to improve their communities, their country, or the world.
- So the best and brightest are rejecting public service as a career path. Just as Baby Boomers are retiring from government and politics, Washington faces a rising-generation “brain drain.”
- The only way Milliennials might engage Washington is if they first radically change it.
For a least a decade, experts have struggled to understand why civic-minded Millennials are rejecting public service and politics. Beyond the why, I wanted to understand what it means: What happens to U.S. politics over the next two or three decades if the best and bright of the next generation abandon Washington? So I talked to them -- at elite public high schools in suburban Washington and Boston, at Harvard University’s Kennedy School for Government, and on Capitol Hill. In all, I conducted more than 80 interviews with Millennials as well as pollsters, demographers, and generational experts. They brought me to my fourth conclusion: What Millennials have in store for the political system is revolutionary. Maybe worse.
“They’ve been told all their lives to wait in line,” former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele says. “But they’re of a mind to say, ‘OK, while I’m waiting in line I’ll blow your stuff up.”
You’ve heard the knocks against Millennials. They’re narcissistic, coddled, and lazy, not to mention spoiled. But there’s more to their story. The largest and most diverse generation in U.S. history is goal-orientated, respects authority and follows rules. Millennials are less ideological than their Baby Boom parents and far more tolerant. In addition to famously supporting gay rights, polls show they are less prone to cast negative moral judgments on interracial marriages, single women raising children, unmarried couples living together and mothers of young children working outside the home. While their parents and grandparents preferred to work alone, young Americans are team-oriented and seek collaboration. Wired to the world, they are more likely than past generations to see the globe’s problems as their own. Millennials are eager to serve the greater community through technologies, paradoxically, that empower the individual.
Speaking of technology, Millennials witnessed, embraced, and in some cases instigated massive disruptions of the music, television, movie, media, and retail industries. The most supervised and entitled generation in human history, they have no patience for inefficiency, stodgy institutions or the status quo. Consider what they could do to politics and government.