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Originally published November 24, 2011 at 4:01 PM | Page modified November 24, 2011 at 10:54 PM

Lance Dickie / Seattle Times editorial columnist

Millennials: you're invited, join the fray, shape your political future

The Millennial Generation, which out numbers the baby boomers, has the skills, brainpower and voting clout to shape its political and economic options.

Seattle Times editorial columnist

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I had a blinding insight the other day. Or maybe it was a weird light refraction off my trifocals. Proponents of a single-payer health-insurance plan and a viable Social Security system have a natural demographic ally.

Millennials.

The more I learn about these young Americans born after 1981 the more impressed I am with their generational profile and their undiscovered political clout. They number some 80 million, which is bigger — considerably bigger — than my baby-boomer cohort.

Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, went from being a coveted, supersized marketing target, with the critical mass to dictate popular culture and fashion, to being portrayed as a giant demographic clot moving through America's fiscal arteries.

Millennials are in the early, utterly charming phase, as their statistical collage is assembled.

Scott Keeter and Paul Taylor of Pew Research Center identify millenials as the most racially and ethnically diverse cohort of youth in the nation's history. Of course they take the online world for granted, and their social lives exist in the ether.

Millennials are the least religiously observant youths since statistics were collected, and the most trusting of institutions.

They have the implicit conceits about what makes them special: music and fashion. But they are also more liberal, more accepting and pretty damn smart.

Broad demographic assumptions have some traps. The age span of millennials includes teens without drivers' licenses and thirty-somethings with careers and kids.

The thread that fascinates me is a strain of political naiveté. Millennials are described as waiting to be invited to participate. They want to be asked. Why?

I am watching for grittier realities to take hold. Every generation suffers through economic downturns and recessions. Baby boomers have had their share, with nasty unemployment statistics. None of them matched their parents' Great Depression.

This time, the underlying economy is visibly transformed. For millennials the competition is not with aging boomers, but other millennials in developing countries. Deep change, coming since the 1970s, exploded in 2008.

Allow me to suggest the Occupy Wall Street movement fill in some down time with a must read for the Millennial Generation: "Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon," by Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner.

Visceral outrage is not enough. This brilliant book lays out how the thorough mugging of the American economy took place. This is about the people who stole the country's future, and those who aided and abetted the crime.

Millennials understandably want credit as the entrepreneurs who have created innovations in one- and two-person shops. The book explains why good ideas cannot get a loan from Main Street bankers.

If millennials believe and expect they will have many, many jobs in their working lives — the number 17 gets tossed out — then I see a constituency for a basic economic model: national health insurance.

Millenials rapidly changing jobs will never have the predictability and portability of employer-provided insurance. And yes, after you age out of parental coverage you will get sick — or at least break an ankle snowboarding.

Millennials represent a political force to make it happen. The other quotient of enlightened self-interest is support for a stable Social Security system. You know, government with benefits. It will be the foundation of any retirement plan, because defined-benefit pensions — Google them — are history.

I've paid into Social Security since the summer of my freshman year in high school when I got my first job that paid me with a check. Social Security was as irrelevant to me as all those anonymous property taxpayers who paid for the new public schools we boomers flooded into.

If the millennials need an invitation, well, here it is. Join the fray. Mix it up. Shape the political dynamic to your benefit.

Lance Dickie's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His email address is ldickie@seattletimes.com




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