Center for American Progress Action

Millennial Economics: It Don’t Matter if You’re Black or White (or Hispanic)

Millennial Economics: It Don’t Matter if You’re Black or White (or Hispanic)

Study from Amanda Logan and David Madland shows that young adults' opinions on the economy are becoming more alike and more progressive.

 (CAPAF/Lauren Ferguson)
(CAPAF/Lauren Ferguson)

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Some worry that as the United States grows more racially and ethnically diverse, the country will become increasingly fragmented. Yet whites, blacks, and Hispanics in the Millennial Generation—Americans between the ages of 18 and 29—are more diverse and share more similar attitudes about the economy than any previous generation of young people. Young blacks and Hispanics have historically been more progressive than young whites, but young whites are closing the gap and have actually become more progressive in several areas, according to the results of our study.

On a range of economic issues—from support for universal health care and labor unions to assistance for the needy—minorities in the Millennial Generation are generally more progressive than whites of the same age. Young blacks and Hispanics are more likely than young whites to believe that the government can be a force for good in the economy, and that labor unions are necessary to ensure strong and sustainable economic growth, as well as support increased investments in health care, education, and other areas.

Perhaps the most unique trait of the Millennial Generation is that the gap between young minorities and young whites is shrinking. Not only are young adults today more progressive than previous generations—as a previous Center for American Progress report, “The Progressive Generation,” found—but they are more likely to hold similar views than previous generations of young adults. Young whites today are closing the progressive gap with minorities on most of the economic issues we examined—and on some issues have become more progressive.

Over the past 20 years, an average of 86 percent of blacks aged 18 to 29 agreed that labor unions are necessary to protect workers, while 72 percent of young whites agreed—a 14 percentage-point progressive gap. Today the gap is just 2 percentage points.

Forty-six percent of young Hispanics over the past two decades believed it is the government’s responsibility to ensure a good job and standard of living for all, while just 35 percent of young whites did—a gap of 11 percentage points. Today, the gap is less than 6 percentage points.

An average of 55 percent of young blacks and 54 percent of young Hispanics over the past 20 years have supported universal health care provided by the government, while 45 percent of young whites held this view. Today, young whites are slightly more supportive of universal government-provided health care than young Hispanics and nearly as supportive as young blacks.

Over the last two decades, an average of 88 percent of young blacks and 83 percent of young Hispanics thought federal spending for education should be increased, compared to 78 percent of young whites. Today, Millennial generation whites have nearly cut in half the gap between themselves and young blacks and have overtaken Hispanics.

An average of 85 percent of blacks, 72 percent of Hispanics, and 51 percent of whites aged 18 to 29 over the past two decades have supported increased federal spending for the poor—a gap of 34 percentage points between young blacks and young whites and 21 percentage points between young Hispanics and young whites. In the most recent survey, whites had reduced the gap with blacks by almost 10 percentage points and had cut it in half with Hispanics.

Young adults today have more similar views perhaps because they face a common economic struggle. Millennials are confronting far more significant economic challenges than other recent generations—such as lower rates of health care coverage, worse job prospects, and higher levels of student loan debt—and are likely reacting to the conservative policies that have created much of their financial difficulties. It also appears that the gap is closing in part because young minorities tend to keep the progressive views of their elders, while young whites are increasingly rejecting the more conservative views of elder whites.

Whatever the cause of their economic progressivism, Millennials of all races are set to play a major role in the 2008 election and beyond. The economy is the most important issue of the election for all voters, but has been a bigger concern for Millennials than older generations. Millennials are a very large generation in size—and by far the most diverse. And young adults are voting at increasingly high rates, with 2008 likely to be the third major election in a row with an increase in turnout among young voters.

Due to their embrace—across race and ethnicity—of decidedly progressive positions on economic issues, this generation could well be poised to transform the American political landscape in 2008 and beyond.

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David Madland

Senior Fellow; Senior Adviser, American Worker Project