Millennials are often characterized as narcissistic, lazy, and entitled. A generation that came of age at one of the worst economic times in U.S. history, were mostly coddled by their Baby Boomer parents, and are the most indebted (due to massive student loan debt) generation in U.S. history is often looked down on by older generations — perhaps unfairly, too.
“Among six civic activities in the AP-GfK poll, volunteering is the only one that adults under 30 rated as highly as older people did,” AP reports.
The number of adults under 30 who view volunteering as very important climbed 10 percentage points from the same survey taken in 1984. Additionally, according to census data analyzed by the Corporation for National and Community Service, 20 percent of young adults volunteered in 2013, a number that increased 6 percentage points from 14 percent in 1989.
Just like with many civic activities, participation tends to only increase as a generation ages. People get older, they become parents, and they get involved in schools, youth groups, and community improvement organizations. This means Americans could see an unprecedented emphasis on volunteer work in the future.
“We’re on the crux of something big, because these Millennials are going to take this spirit of giving and wanting to change communities and they’re going to become parents soon,” said Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. “I am very encouraged by what we’re seeing.”
Unfortunately, Millennials’ attitudes toward staying informed and voting does not match their spirit for giving back. While the share of Millennials who view volunteering as very important has increased, staying informed dropped 13 percentage points. Views on jury duty, voting, reporting crimes, and speaking English as important obligations of citizenship are also on the decline.
There are a number of variables that play a factor in this:
- The number of nonprofits has skyrocketed since President George H.W. Bush gave his 1989 inaugural address, in which he championed volunteer groups in the U.S. as “a thousand points of light”;
- More schools and workplaces either emphasize the importance of volunteering or require it;
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day and September 11 are now considered days of service; and
- The growth of social media has allowed for broader outreach for volunteer groups and projects looking to make a difference.
The volunteering infrastructure in the U.S. has grown exponentially in the United States since the Baby Boomer generation came of age — a time when only churches and scout groups nudged young people toward volunteer work.
At the same time, organizations like churches, newspapers, and labor unions — which historically have promoted political and civic engagement in one way or another — are shrinking, according to Peter Levine, associate dean for research at Tufts University’s college of citizenship.
Politics in the United States has not only become more partisan (which goes against the independent spirit of the Millennial generation), it has become increasingly negative. This, according to many observers, not only has turned away young voters, but a majority of voters in general — only 36 percent of the national electorate turned out to vote in the 2014 midterms.
According to Rutgers University Professor Cliff Zukin, political participation was on the decline well before young voters came of age.
“[Young adults are] starting at a very, very low point,” he said. “And each generation seems to have peaked at less than the previous generation.”
Millennials came out in droves in 2008 because they thought they could make a difference under the promise of hope and change, but they have since become disenchanted by an electoral system that won’t provide either.
The Democratic Party arrogantly assumes it has the young vote secured while doing little to reach out to these voters, and the Republican Party ignores them completely.
It may baffle some that even though people have greater access to information today than at any other point in U.S. history, staying informed is not as important to young adults as it used to be. The growth of the Internet and social media has given tech-savy Millennials almost unlimited access to information at home and on-the-go, but few people consider the quality of the content young adults grew up exposed to and are currently exposed to.
Many people still get their news from television sources since it is hard to take the time to seek out different sources of news — time most working adults don’t have. Being informed is not as easy as some make it sound. It requires time, money, and resources that not everyone has. Plus, it is nearly impossible to be truly informed on every topic being discussed at any time.
The rise of 24-hour cable news meant less focus was placed on informing viewers of things they needed to know and more focus was put on ratings — ratings that could generate revenue for a parent corporation. All topics are reduced to black-and-white discussions that rely more on substanceless talking points than in-depth reporting. Speculative journalism has replaced real journalism.
As a result, trust in traditional media sources is at historic lows while newspapers are on their death beds. When trust in the media diminishes, people grow cynical that they can find reliable information anywhere.
Social media gives people access to information faster, but it is a filterless medium where the burden falls on the individual to find a small handful of credible sources that offer news citizens and voters should know about and would want to know about in a vast ocean of deafening noise.
Much like older generations, Millennials will likely increase their political and civic participation as they get older. It may even be possible that increased experience from volunteering could carry over to other civic activities, but this is still a young generation trying to find its place in the world around them.
Photo retrieved from the Huffington Post