Millennials and Generation Z now make up the largest voting bloc in the U.S., currently an estimated 37% and growing, but they are underrepresented in government. Those young voters—who cast ballots in large numbers this year, largely for Joe Biden—expect concrete actions in return for their votes. To make that happen, a coalition of youth-led groups is now pushing for policies that will help the younger generations, especially as they navigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and what for many of them is the second recession of their lifetimes.
In order to help structure and deliver outcomes, the youth advocacy organizations have formulated a “100-Day Plan” of policies that the coalition wants to see from the incoming administration. Spearheaded by Young Invincibles, a research and advocacy group for the needs of 18- to 34-year-olds, the agenda contains seven policy areas that call for “long-overdue change,” including higher education, immigration, housing, and climate. “What’s in our agenda reflects the actual needs of young people, and a lot of those reflect the reality that young people understand the urgency to act—and to act boldly,” says Katie Kirchner, national director for the progressive think tank Roosevelt Institute’s Roosevelt Network, which worked on the agenda.
“One thing that we see constantly is, youth are always left out of the meetings,” says Carlos Mark Vera, cofounder and executive director of Pay Our Interns. “So the whole point of this is: Let’s make sure that we have policies crafted for young people, by young people.” Pay Our Interns is one of the advocacy groups that joined to offer insights in its particular policy area (labor). Other such groups include the Sunrise Movement (climate), UnidosUS (immigration), and National Network for Youth (housing and homelessness).
The agenda consists of a long list of legislative proposals (as well as 41 potential executive actions that Biden could take if he is stalled by a Republican-controlled Senate). While ambitious, they’re also tailored to the Biden platform. Take healthcare: The agenda doesn’t push for Medicare for All, which Biden opposed in the primary. Rather, it proposes executive actions to protect the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and end work requirements for Medicare coverage. Many of the suggestions focus squarely on young people: ensuring Medicaid coverage for young mothers, and paid family leave; prioritizing mental health illnesses and addiction; and expanding ACA coverage for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.
DACA is also featured in the immigration demands, where its full reinstatement and expansion is a top priority (the authors say it could be accomplished by executive order, if necessary). They also call for the new president to place a temporary moratorium on deportations and to lift caps on the entry of new refugees. These are much in line with Biden’s thinking: According to early reports, Biden is planning to implement a 100-day freeze on deportations and to raise the refugee cap from 15,000 to 125,000—the figure that the youth groups are asking for.
Another one of Biden’s planned “immediate flurry of executive actions” is rejoining the Paris climate agreement, a key element in the youth agenda, as is a commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Some of the platform’s most ambitious asks come in the climate section: It calls for Congress to pass a Green New Deal in the form of a “historic stimulus” of $10 trillion over 10 years reserved for major infrastructural projects and the transition to clean energy, all the while “repairing historic injustices” by creating new jobs for a diversity of workers.
This is just one of the areas in which Kirchner sees a parallel between a post-pandemic rebuild and the New Deal. Another is within the economic and labor section of the agenda, where a priority is to create apprenticeships and pathways to employment within federal agencies. Also included in that section are policies that could help achieve equity: increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, guaranteeing workplace benefits for freelance and gig workers, and incentivizing fair-chance hiring policies.
In the realm of higher education, the aim is to cancel $50,000 of student loan debt per person and create easier pipelines from internships into workforces, so employment in certain industries isn’t reserved for the well-off. “Part of the reason why a lot of this has been botched,” says Pay Our Intern’s Vera, “is we have some very, very rich people who are detached from reality creating the policies.”
Jesse Barba, senior director of external affairs at Young Invincibles, is aware of the tall order they’ve set. “I think they are bold,” he says of the proposals, “but attainable.” He says the groups plan to first push the administration on hiring the right staff, and then focus on the policy actions. “I think it’s incumbent on young people to be that thorn in the side of this administration,” he says. “To hold their feet to the fire, to make sure that those campaign promises turn into administrative action.”
Though the coalition has now passed the finished document on to the president-elect’s transition team, Barba says it has so far not received a response or any feedback.