Millennials Demand a Stronger, More Flexible Safety Net

As the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network releases its progressive, practical Budget for a Millennial America, those who helped craft it will explain their innovative ideas and tough choices in a series of posts. Zachary Kolodin envisions a safety net that grows stronger in recessions to catch those falling out of the workforce.

I graduated from college in 2007, entering the job market just as it was teetering toward collapse, and have been incredibly fortunate to have a job during this tumultuous time. But I have watched dozens of my friends — capable, engaged people — struggle with job loss, unemployment, financial problems, and debt during these critical formative years. This has been the experience of almost every Millennial in the job market since the Great Recession swept away the economic growth of the 1990s and 2000s.

As a result, Millennials grasp the importance of having a strong social safety net better than any generation in recent memory. Having experienced the economic storm viscerally, my generation has come to understand the importance of unemployment benefits and subsidized health insurance, and the difficulty of acquiring new skills in America once you’re unemployed.

During the worst of the recession, and even now as unemployment hangs uncomfortably at 9%, Millennials have found America’s safety net in retreat just as it is needed most. State budgets, which fund many core social programs, dry up in economic downturns, leaving people in need with no where to turn. The Roosevelt Institute Campus Network found Millennials wanting a safety net that grows stronger during difficult times, providing even more robust benefits, rather than shriveling up when budgets face challenges.

Sign up for weekly ND20 highlights, mind-blowing stats, and event alerts.

In the past 30 years, the American economy has become more dynamic, more service-oriented, and more unpredictable. Yet the institutions that make up our social safety met have remained largely unchanged. Millennials want to remedy this oversight. The safety net should provide basic insurance for everyday Americans against the exigencies of a dynamic, flexible economy. Furthermore, it should help Americans rebound when their careers are sidetracked by industrial shifts out of their control.

To accomplish these essential goals, the Budget for the Millennial America proposes two key additions to the safety net:

1. An automatic stimulus plan that ensures states can continue to provide much-needed social services even when tax revenues dry up during recessions.
2. A new kind of worker retraining program designed specifically for the 21st century economy.

The recent recession proved that states do not have the tools they need to fight downturns when they occur. Combining an auto-stimulus plan with a State Budget Bank that can provide lending to states to fill budget holes during economic downturns will give them the firepower they need to continue to support health insurance for the elderly, needy, and young, and to keep education strong during tough times. Without this change, we can expect to once again see American society begin to unravel at the seams during recessions.

Zachary Kolodin is the Director of the Future Preparedness Initiative at the Roosevelt Institute.