As A Generation Grows Up, Mass. Senate Looks To Engage Millennials

February 10, 2016

Millennials in Massachusetts are starting to see bills for childcare and mortgages pile up next to the old stack of college loans payments. And as a generation ages, the machinations of government become more relevant to everyday life. The Massachusetts State Senate is hoping to do for 30-something millennials over the next few years what previous generations have come by less directly—to engage the needs of the cohort firsthand.

The Senate Wednesday will roll out a plan to give an open platform to the "Generation Y" or Millennial generation and try to get a rather cynical group of younger people involved in government.

"We're ready for our closeup, let's say, the Millennials," said Sen. Eric Lesser, 30, who is heading up the Senate's Millennial engagement effort. "We're ready to begin not just observing the political process but directly participating in it."

Lesser will hold a series of roundtables and other informal discussions with younger people and the industry leaders who intersect with them.

"When everything else in our society has been changing and and everything else in our culture and our economy has been adjusting to the information age you need government to too," Lesser said.

Senate President Stan Rosenberg says the mission here is to form a "millennial agenda" to sort out what the policy goals of the generation are while engaging them in developing plans for what government can and should be doing.

"They are very cynical and we need to turn that cynicism around," to have them see that government can be a powerful force in their lives that they can shape, Rosenberg said.

"Our generation is used to speed and is used to moving quickly," Lesser said, which can lead many to view government as behind the times and in need of an overhaul.

Rosenberg, who at 66 years old is very firmly a part of the Baby Boomer cohort, said he began thinking about dedicating the attention of the Senate to this generational issue after seeing statistics that showed Millennials even more disengaged than their "Gen X" predecessors.

"Based on the polls, they were very interested in social action, but they believed you only had to work in nonprofits and as volunteers and that the political system was not worth engaging in," Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg foresees "disruptive technology" altering the way people do everything from getting around to buying their groceries, and that government can help society adapt to the coming changes.

Lesser says the mission of the Senate's initiative is to engage millennials who may not be involved in state government and to try to make some progress on legislation that disproportionately affects young adults, like regulation for social media use, the app-based "gig economy" and the ever-terrifying issue of student debt for people who haven't been students for about a decade.

The list doesn't stop there, Lesser wants to explore what the Lizard People want government to do about drones, driverless cars and whatever other kinds of technology shapes the 21st century.

The Senate has already taken on some policy of interest to Millennials when it passed a social media privacy bill that would restrict how employers, school officials and other access personal online accounts.

"Things like paying off college debt and being able to start a family are also critical and we need to know what they think we can do and should be doing to help them with that," Rosenberg said.

"She's two-and-a-half and we're already saving. And even with that it likely won't be enough," Lesser said of his own daughter's future college fund.


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