Yesterday, the AFL-CIO hosted the first Youth Economic Forum in its Washington, D.C., headquarters. Young leaders in the labor movement gathered with leaders of youth organizations to discuss ways to improve the economic reality faced by the millennial workforce. The goal of the forum is to produce a shared economic policy platform for the millennial generation.
The day consisted of group discussions on a variety of topics, from student loan debt to federal budget policy to workplace conditions, with a focus on issues that directly affect the younger workforce. The discussions were led by representatives from the Roosevelt Institute, Generational Alliance, Young Invincibles and Campus Progress—all organizations that educate and organize young Americans.
The forum’s main event was a speech by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and a moderated panel of experts that included Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), state Rep. Kevin Killer (D-S.D.), Domestic Policy Council member Portia Wu and AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler.
Mr. Trumka’s speech was the highlight of the event. He spoke passionately about the need to focus on issues faced by millennials and the importance of including young voices in policy discussions. He stated labor’s commitment to protecting young workers and emphasized the value of creating a youth-based policy platform.
Impressive millennial Greg Cendana, president of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), moderated the panel. Rep. Ellison spoke emphatically, as always, about the dire situation millennials face, focusing on the need to extend the current student-loan interest rate. State Rep. Killer, an up-and-coming politico to watch, provided a different perspective on the issues. The 33-year-old Native American represents the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, an area that claims an 80% unemployment rate. Rep. Killer, a former Pizza Hut employee, has focused his career on trying to create a strong foundation of employment support and workers’ rights.
The day concluded with a rundown of each group's discussion. The common theme was a need to support young workers and the unemployed by coming to terms with the fact that our generation is unique, not only in the economic situation we face, but in how we think of our role both in the workforce and the policy process. A larger percentage of millennials believe in the value of social programs such as unemployment insurance and Social Security. New technologies allow for a more mobile workforce. Millennials are more focused than previous generations on a work-life balance and therefore support policies like mandatory Paid Family Leave. There are a number of ways that millennials differ from their generational counterparts, and the AFL-CIO’s new youth policy platform hopes to address them all and find ways to support and enhance the rights of young workers.
“The event went better than I could have imagined,” said Sarah Lewis, AFL-CIO researcher and the powerhouse behind the forum. “Yesterday was the first time that labor had deliberately partnered with youth organizations to discuss the issues of our day. Though some may argue that unions aren’t relevant to young people anymore, we know that’s not true. Work connects us all. This will hopefully be the first of many events for the AFL-CIO and our youth community organization partners.”
We all await the document that will come out of yesterday’s discussions. But what is clear is the need for these high-level policy discussions that focus specifically on the dire situation faced by millennials and what can be done to ease the financial burden on our generation. Hopefully yesterday is just the beginning of a long series of such discussions.