The geographically based idiosyncrasies of American democracy that the founders put in place compound the problem. On average, ballots cast by older people hold more weight and are less frequently "wasted" than those of the young. (Wasted votes are those garnered in excess of what a candidate needs to win; in our winner-take-all systems that means anything over 50 percent.) Clustered in sparsely populated states and counties, voters who are older, whiter and wealthier get a boost: Older Americans wield disproportionate sway over the Electoral College, the Senate and a gerrymandered Congress.

Migration patterns worsen these trends. A growing percentage of young people now dream of city life, but their preferences inadvertently reduce their political clout: "18 percent of rural residents are 65 or older versus 15 percent in suburban and small metro counties and 13 percent in cities," the Pew Research Center reported last year. Millennials, concentrated in metropolitan areas, are the predominant generation of potential voters in only 86 congressional districts, while boomer voters predominate in 341. By 2040, 70 percent of Americans are expected to live in the 15 most populous states; that would mean that 70 percent of America will be represented by only 30 senators.


The other critical divide is the economy. The boomers who came of age in the 1950s and '60s benefited from boom times while millennials and Generation Z have been dogged by the aftermath of the mortgage meltdown, an underwhelming recovery and Gilded Age levels of inequality. One generation enjoyed a comparatively high minimum wage, affordable college tuition and reasonable costs of living; for everyone after, stagnating wages, ballooning student debt and unaffordable housing have become the norm.

"Millennials are less well off than members of earlier generations when they were young," a 2018 report by economists from the Federal Reserve Board bluntly states. Other economists have shown that a household headed by someone born in 1970 has a quarter less income and 40 percent less wealth than one headed by a comparable person born in 1940. In contrast, between 1989 and 2013, only the cohort of families headed by people at least 62 saw an increase in median wealth. Older people are more likely to own property, stocks and other assets -- and, consequently, to prefer policies that will keep the values of those assets high. No wonder so many young people have pivoted left, rejecting conventional wisdom about the virtues of unfettered capitalism.

Comments: Be the first to add a comment

add a comment | go to forum thread