The United States is a country with a rapidly aging population. According to the United States Census Bureau, the percentage of the population aged 65 years or older is expected to increase from 16% in 2020 to 21% by 2030 (Census Bureau, 2021). This demographic shift has significant implications for the country’s political landscape, particularly as politicians cater to the older generation rather than the younger generation of voters.
One reason why politicians tend to focus on the older generation of voters is that they tend to be more politically active. Older Americans have a higher voter turnout rate than younger Americans. According to the Pew Research Center, in the 2020 US presidential election, 71% of Americans aged 65 and older voted, compared to only 46% of Americans aged 18 to 29 (Gramlich, 2020). Politicians are therefore more likely to focus on the issues that matter to older Americans, such as healthcare, Social Security, and Medicare, to win their support.
Another reason why politicians tend to focus on the older generation of voters is that they tend to have more money and therefore more influence. Older Americans are more likely to have accumulated wealth over their lifetime and have a higher net worth than younger Americans (Emmons, 2017). As a result, politicians may be more likely to listen to the concerns of older Americans because they are seen as a more influential voting bloc.
However, this focus on the older generation of voters comes at the expense of the younger generation. Younger Americans are often saddled with debt, struggling to find affordable housing, and facing uncertain job prospects. They are also more diverse and more likely to support progressive policies such as climate action and criminal justice reform (Medina et al., 2022). Yet we see many campaigns often failing to address these issues, choosing instead to focus on policies that benefit the older generation.
One example of this is healthcare policy. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, was a major healthcare reform law that was passed in 2010. The law aimed to make healthcare more affordable and accessible for all Americans, regardless of their age or income. However, the law was criticized by some as being too focused on the older generation. The ACA included several provisions that benefited older Americans, such as the expansion of Medicare and the creation of the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which was tasked with finding ways to reduce Medicare costs (Cubanski & Neuman, 2017). However, the law did not do enough to address the concerns of younger Americans, many of whom were struggling to afford healthcare (Montero et al., 2022).
Another example of this is Social Security policy. Social Security is a federal program that provides financial support to retired workers and their families. The program is funded through payroll taxes and is designed to ensure that older Americans have a stable source of income in retirement (SSA, 2021). However, the program is facing financial challenges due to the aging population and the fact that fewer workers are paying into the system. While politicians from both parties have proposed reforms to the program, all viable solutions entail choosing between decreasing benefits or increasing taxes. Unfortunately for the younger generation, politicians would rather double down on Social Security and increase the amount of taxes Gen Z and Millenials would have to pay across the board (deVries, 2020).
Yet another example is climate policy. Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing the world today, and younger Americans are particularly concerned about it. According to a Pew Research Center survey, Gen Zer’s and Millennials are more likely to engage in matters of climate change. About 32% of Gen Zer’s and 28% of Millennials say they’ve done something in the past year to address climate change, such as donating money, volunteering, contacting an elected official or attending a rally or protest (Funk, 2021). However, many politicians have been slow to address the issue, in part because it is not seen as a priority for the older generation of voters. While partisan politics have played a part in the downplaying of climate change policies, there is a visible gap between generations and the acceptance of climate change as a real and major issue (Cohen, 2019). This has led to frustration among younger voters, who feel that their concerns and futures are being ignored.
In conclusion, while the older generation of voters is an important and influential voting bloc, politicians should not ignore the concerns of younger Americans. The country’s political landscape is changing, and politicians must adapt to meet the needs of both the older and younger generations. This means finding ways to address the unique challenges faced by younger Americans, such as student debt, affordable housing, and job opportunities, while also continuing to address the concerns of older Americans, such as healthcare and retirement security. It also means acting on issues that are important to younger Americans, such as climate change and social justice reform. We also need young people to take a more active role in politics, whether by voting, running for office, or holding their elected representatives accountable. By listening to and engaging with younger voters, politicians can build a more inclusive and representative political system that better reflects the needs and aspirations of all Americans, regardless of their age or background. Ultimately, the future of the country depends on the ability of politicians to bridge the generational divide and work together to create a better outcome for all.
United States Census Bureau. “Older People Projected to Outnumber Children for First Time in US History”, 13 March 2018, revised 8 October 2021. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2018/cb18-41-population-projections.html
Cubanski, Juliette and Neuman, Tricia. “10 Essential Facts about Medicaid’s Financial Outlook”, Kaiser Family Foundation, 2 April 2017, https://www.kff.org/medicare/issue- brief/10-essential-facts-about-medicares-financial-outlook/
Social Security Administration. “Fast Facts & Figures about Social Security, 2021”. SSA Publication No. 13-11785, September 2021, https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/chartbooks/fast_facts/2021/fast_facts21.pdf
Gramlich, John. “What the 2020 electorate looks like by party, race and ethnicity, age, education and religion”, Pew Research Center, 26 October 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/10/26/what-the-2020-electorate-looks-like-by-party-race-and-ethnicity-age-education-and-religion/
Medina, Alberto; de Guzman, Peter; Siegel-Stechler, Kelly; Beadle, Kelly. “Youth in 2022: Concerned about Issues but Neglected by Campaigns”. Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, 19 December 2022, https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/youth-2022-concerned-about-issues-neglected-campaigns
Funk, Cary. “Key findings: How Americans’ attitudes about climate change differ by generation, party and other factors”. Pew Research Center, 26 May 2021, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/05/26/key-findings-how-americans- attitudes-about-climate-change-differ-by-generation-party-and-other-factors/
Emmons, William R. “Long-Term Household Income and Wealth Gains Favor Older Americans”. On the Economy Blog, 5 October, 2017, https://www.stlouisfed.org/on-the-economy/2017/october/long-term-income-wealth-gains-favor-older-americans
Montero, Alex; Kearney, Audrey; Hamel, Liz; Brodie, Mollyann. “Americans’ Challenges with Health Care Costs”. Kaiser Family Foundation, 14 July, 2022, https://www.kff.org/health-costs/issue-brief/americans-challenges-with-health-care-costs/
deVries, Kyle J. “Why Doubling Down on Social Security Is Unfair to Gen Z and Millennials”. Foundation for Economic Education, 12 February 2020, https://fee.org/articles/why-doubling-down-on-social-security-is-unfair-to-gen-z-and-millennials/
Cohen, Steven. “The Age Gap in Environmental Politics”. Columbia Climate School, 4 February 2019, https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2019/02/04/age-gap-environmental-politics/