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Might millennials spawn a ‘War of the Ages’?

Move over war on women. Stand aside racial, ethnic and sexual orientation politics. Victimhood on many fronts might soon be passé as a prominent driver of public policy based on the views, priorities and sensitivities revealed in a new Reason-Rupe 2014 Millennial Survey of young Americans age 18-29.

While this groups’ historically liberal beliefs have often cultivated strong attraction to the Democratic Party, that notion along with many others no longer holds true.

The findings

Millennials are a “politically unclaimed generation” whose 2004 support for Obama has waned with 34 percent now calling themselves independent – a rate triple that among Americans over 30. With being less partisan and often socially liberal, fiscally conservative in their views, millennials are open to more non-traditional candidates.

The study notes, however, that while they don’t trust either of the two major political parties, millennials see the Democrats as “the better of two bad options.”

Fiscal conservatism seems to increase as millennials age. While a prioritization of social issues over economics was found, 78 percent cited the budget deficit and national debt as major problems.

“Activist government” support declines as millennials “learn its costs, make more money and take on more responsibilities.” In theory, 54 percent of millennials favor “larger government with more services” and 43 percent support “smaller government with fewer services,” but when coupled with specific tax rates, the support flips such that 57 percent favor smaller government leaving only 41 percent wanting a larger version.

Acquiring income and adult responsibilities impacts millennials’ views. Support for income redistribution is found among 53 percent of millennials making less than $20,000 a year with 39 percent opposed. Raise the income to $40,000 or more, support again flips with 42 percent in favor, 54 percent opposed.

Millennials paying for their own health insurance oppose paying more to ensure coverage of the uninsured (39 percent to 59 percent) yet those whose parents’ pay tend to favor increased premiums (57 percent to 42 percent). Similarly, learning their Social Security payout will be less than contributed amounts prompts 51 percent of millennials to support private retirement accounts even if doing so cuts benefits to current seniors.

With a somewhat wanting-it-all viewpoint, millennials favorably view competition (70 percent) and profit (64 percent) with 55 percent wanting to one day start their own business. The majority support a free market (64 percent) over a government-managed economy (32 percent). An active government, though, is also seen as important. Per the report, a plurality (48 percent) said government should do more to solve problems with 58 percent saying the state should spend more on assistance to the poor. Seven in 10 support public guarantees for housing, health insurance and income.

But despite cautious support for an active government, millennials recognize government’s inefficiencies and potential for corruption with 66 percent noting government as inefficient and wasteful (up from 42 percent in 2009) and 63 percent believing regulators favor special interests over the public. The survey additionally found 58 percent of millennials responding that government agencies generally abuse power.

Confusion regarding millennials’ values appears to exist as they “speak a language distinct from older Americans.” For example, 42 percent prefer socialism and 52 percent favor capitalism yet only 16 percent of millennials can accurately define socialism. When put in terms of concrete policies, however, cutting spending (65 percent) or taxes (58 percent) receive more support than abstract calls to reduce government’s “size” (53 percent).

Self-determination and other components of a free market system appear to dominate millennial thinking. Holding individuals as primarily responsible for their success, personal decisions such as hard work (61 percent), ambition (39 percent) and self-discipline (36 percent) topped the explanations of wealth. Common explanations of poverty cited were poor life choices (40 percent), lack of job opportunities (37 percent) and lack of work ethic (31 percent).

Further findings found fairness defined as “getting what you earn rather than what you need” with nearly six in 10 desiring a society wherein wealth is distributed according to achievement, even if that means unequal outcomes.

So what does all this mean?

Millennials have a natural right to cynicism. Maturity has brought this everyone-gets-a-trophy generation the realization that trophy manufacturers and retailers – not young people themselves – were the beneficiaries of that type thinking. They are seeing that life is far more complicated than the simplistic, misguided mindset previously sold.

The education industry coupled with a void of fiscally prudent, responsible adults similarly convinced students that all should go to college yet years later a worthless degree and a mountain of debt suggests that many would have better benefited from more cost-effective, targeted vocational or technical training.

Employment opportunity routinely spawns stability and success in other avenues of adulthood. While any generation’s most talented and hardest working generally find such employment, others struggle while some today are just opting out of the job market.

As public assistance – or more specifically, taxpayer-funded assistance – often becomes part of that equation, employed Americans face multiple fronts competing for existing and new tax dollars. Some demands come in the form of programs to which people have historically been entitled (Social Security, Medicare), others are based on the expansion of programs (food aid, housing assistance and other social services) promoted within public policy circles.

Our $17 trillion national debt and outrageous local government debt levels for states like Texas (more than $325 billion) add to the taxation burden. Obamacare and its compulsory coverage – at taxpayer expense if needed – creates additional, mounting pressure.

And as the longevity of today’s current seniors is coupled with the Baby Boomers’ retirement, these numbers can only rise. A recent survey by MoneyRates.com found 40 percent of respondents admitting they have no resources set aside to help finance care they’ll most likely need in upcoming years.

Bottom line

The millennials are poised to bear the brunt of our country’s financial state – for decades to come. Their plight will entail paying for their parents’ and grandparents’ fiscal imprudence while still needing to support themselves and their families. Upon being placed in the most difficult of situations, don’t be surprised that a true “War of the Ages” is likely in all our futures.