February 5, 2020
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These are the issues that Gen Z and Millennial voters actually care about

A new survey shows young Americans have significant concerns about the environment and economy they've inherited—and they're taking action.

Students gather in New York City to protest the lack of action on climate change-related issues in March 2019. A new poll reveals that young people are most concerned about the economy and climate change. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Young Americans have seemingly launched a thousand memes and been the subject of much misunderstanding when it comes to what they do (and don’t) care about.

However, a new survey released in late January at the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting sheds some light on their current concerns, providing proof that they continue to be wary of the world they have inherited from their parents’ generation.

The survey, which was fielded in December 2019 among 1,000 likely registered voters ages 18-29, revealed that only 36 percent believe that their parents have left them a better world. They are outweighed by 40 percent who feel that it’s far worse off.

Chief among their concerns: the environment and the economy.

[Read more: These are the 5 causes Millennials care about the most]

Global warming emerged as a major priority for younger Americans. The survey showed that 80 percent feel that global warming is a major threat to human life on earth as we know it.

For some younger Americans, global warming is a central issue because they recognize that it may impact many of the other social issues they care about and seek to address.

“If you care about everything else, you also have to have your eye on the ball in terms of climate change, because that intersects with everything,” said Jamie Margolin, who co-founded the Zero Hour climate movement when she was 16 and is currently its CEO. She spoke at the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting on youth who are taking action in their communities. “You’re not going to be able to solve poverty and you’re not going to be able to address any of these other issues without addressing climate change.”

According to the survey, younger generations are willing to walk the talk by committing to actions that will help mitigate climate change.

Three in five report trying to reduce their carbon footprint, either every day (25 percent) or in major life decisions (35 percent). And nearly three in 10 report following a vegan or vegetarian diet at least some of the time. However, when it comes to transportation, it appears younger Americans may have more barriers to committing to the greenest options. Only 10 percent rely on public transportation, and automobiles continue to be the choice for the vast majority (76 percent).

[Read more: These are the causes Gen Z cares about the most]

When it comes to the economy, younger Americans have mixed feelings about the future. 42 percent report being concerned about future job prospects and relationships in a fast changing world, while 49 percent feel optimistic.

These mixed feelings appear to stem from a number of relevant economic issues, including the lingering effects of the 2008 financial crisis, student loan debt, and retirement and social security. According to the research, only 19 percent feel that the 2008 financial crisis is behind us and that prosperity is around the corner.

Despite these concerns, a majority (54 percent) do feel that they will be better off financially than their parents. But, they will have to work well past retirement age to achieve this. 41 percent currently believe that they will retire after age 65, and another 23 percent believe they will work as long as they live. And a plurality (44 percent) do not believe that social security benefits will be available to them in the future if and when they do retire.

The new research paints a picture of younger Americans who are willing to work to achieve change, whether personally, professionally, or globally. And those closest to the research say companies, organizations, and elected officials would be wise to pay close attention to their values and beliefs.

“These are not just an interesting bunch of kids who happen to be different,” said John Zogby, Founder and Senior Partner of John Zogby Strategies and the primary author of the study. “They are 40 percent of [the] workforce, about to be 40 percent of the electorate. Their values are here to stay.”

Read the full United States Conference of Mayors—Zogby Strategies 2020 National Youth Poll results here.

Julie Dixon

Julie Dixon is a contributor to The Renewal Project. She is a director on the Strategy team at Atlantic 57.