Young Americans on Values and Opportunity in DC

by Elizabeth Clay Roy   •  

Last Friday, Georgetown’s Berkley Center and the Public Religion Research Institute released a groundbreaking survey of young Americans on faith, values, and the issues facing our country. Opportunity Nation was thrilled to partner on the event, along with great organizations that elevate youth leadership on a daily basis, Interfaith Youth Core and Sustained Dialogue Campus Network.

The conversations began early as students blogged about their thoughts on values and faith, key issues facing the country. The survey showed that like many Americans, young adults (18-24) believe the top three issues facing the country are jobs and employment, the federal deficit, and education. A strong majority (63%) of young Millennials think one of the biggest problems facing the country is that we don’t give everyone an equal chance at life.

The survey also showed mixed feelings about the American Dream, and its no surprise. Millennials hear a story about American opportunity. They read and hear about the expansion of the middle class in the 20th century, perhaps from their own parents. But young people today are wondering why it feels like the rungs are broken when they start climbing the ladder of opportunity.

First, for too many young people, the foundation of having their basic needs met was missing in childhood. During the 2000s, while they were growing up, child poverty surged across the country. Children who experience even a bout of poverty are less likely to graduate from high school, are more likely to become very young parents, have more difficulties learning, and earn less money than their non-poor peers as adults.

On top of that shaky foundation, we place a ladder. A key rung is education, but whether you look at quality, access or graduation rates, this rung is broken for too many young adults. Millennials we spoke to in our listening tour said they felt that their zip code was more important than their GPA in determining their future.  Approximately seven thousand students drop out every school day, and it isn’t equal across communities – some schools have nearly a 50% drop out rate. On the other end of the spectrum, young people who are on a path to higher education face high costs. Average college debt for student at graduation is now over $27,000.

Opportunity Nation will continue to lift the voices and leadership of young adults throughout this movement, and champion policies that help young Americans reach their potential. If they can’t reach theirs, we can’t reach ours.

Elizabeth Clay Roy

Deputy Director, Opportunity Nation

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