David Frum looks at Pew Data on the young and concludes that “The millennial generation will be a generation characterized by high levels of inter-ethnic conflict.” I doubt it, but the data do offer some other lessons.
Millennials are more likely to find themselves alienated from institutions like churches, and have lower levels of social trust. Here is the thing: it isn’t clear that millennials want to be alienated. The College Republican report notes that many millennials have put off getting married and having children because of their lousy economic prospects. Many of the single and struggling millennials aspire to getting married and starting their own businesses. The Obama strategy has been to help them manage the personal alienation and collective economic decline—not reverse it. Obama’s “Life of Julia” slideshow was all about how you could get through life without needing to form a stable relationship with anybody but President Obama. He will be there for you.
But at least Obama was there for you. The Romney plan was to give a big tax cut to your boss’s boss and, if your wages were below the median, call you an irresponsible leech in front of his rich friends.
Government policy can’t just make people’s familial and entrepreneurial aspirations come true. Social life isn’t that plastic. But we can put policy on the side of those aspirations. We can use tax policy to increase the take-home pay of working families who are at or just under the earnings median. This would make being a worker and a parent a better deal. People’s anxieties about losing their family’s health insurance if they should get laid off and get stuck in a job with no benefits are perfectly legitimate. Maybe young people would like limited-government politics better if they didn’t think that their choices were limited to Obamacare or nothing. Luckily alternative policies exist, but what fraction of young voters have ever heard about them?