Today was my first day back as digital and social media producer at Here & Now in Boston, after a month-long reporting trip. I sat down in the studio with H&N host Robin Young to talk about what I learned from speaking with young Americans across the country. (Click the audio above to hear the interview.)
To Vote Or Not To Vote
Of the dozens of people I spoke with, 45 percent told me they do plan to vote, 32 percent said they will not vote and 23 percent weren’t sure yet. Some who plan to vote were motivated by a particular issue or candidate, but many felt that voting is important and something everyone should do.
In Milford, Penn., 28-year-old Stephanie Eruhow said, “If I don’t, then a majority of my friends won’t, you know what I mean? It just takes one person to start a line of getting it going.”
Among those who will not vote, some said they just don’t follow politics. Others said they missed the registration date. But some were very deliberate about not voting, saying there are no good options, or that they just don’t trust government.
In Hernando, Miss., 23-year-old Jamie Hovas told me, “The people that are in it, you don’t really know anything about ‘em because one person’s saying one thing and the other person’s saying another thing and you don’t know the whole truth about anything.”
The Issues Most Important To Young Americans
Asking young people about the issues most important to them, I got a wide range of answers. An 18-year-old told me that the issue she follows most closely is the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. A 28-year-old told me that drugs are her top concern – she’s had friends die of overdoses and she wants kids to know the risks.
But there were repeating themes, too. Jobs won as the most common answer, followed by the environment. Tied for third most common answer were LGBT issues, including gay marriage, and religious values – people who said they vote in step with their church.
Deciding Whether To Stay Or Go
A little more than half of the young people I spoke with said they plan to continue living where they are, while the rest plan to leave. In small towns, some people couldn’t imagine leaving their family and friends. Some are returning to their hometowns after college in order to start a business, or take over the family business. But some young people can’t wait to leave their hometown.
Blake Pedon, 20, in Rena Lara, Mississippi, said, “I would go anywhere besides Mississippi – I just want to get out of here, really. Mississippi’s just kind of – not a lot of opportunities and stuff, like other places.”
In urban areas, I found that many young people seemed likely to stick around, as long as they’re happy with the job opportunities. I also met young people who see the world at their fingertips and don’t know where they might end up. Some people I interviewed had already found a new place to call home.
Erin Wright, 29, moved from San Jose, California, to a small town in Kentucky, where she works at Kelley Beekeeping.
“I grew up in larger cities and you know I like to visit ‘em, but if someone paid me to live there again, I wouldn’t do it. I just like the community here, and I really like the community just within Kelley’s a lot,” she said.
Conclusions And Surprises
At times, it seemed like caring about issues was a luxury — that things were going well enough to be concerned about something or someone else. Sometimes it seemed like a luxury not to care — college students who could tune out the world around them as they studied. There were other times that paying attention came from hardship, like a coal miner who’s job was in jeopardy as a result of environmental regulations. And times that not paying attention came from hardship, like a Mexican immigrant-turned U.S. citizen who works long hours to provide for the children he had as a teenager.
On a lighter note, one surprise of this trip was that virtually every young person I asked for an interview said yes, and not a single person said no to me taking their photo. Perhaps it has something to do with the selfie generation - posting so many photos and being tagged in photos to the point it’s not a big deal. But this generation also knows that something posted about you online can stay there forever. So it did surprise me that no one said “no way, I didn’t shower today” or “wait, where are you posting this photo?” or even “hey, can I see it first?”
So thank you to all of the people who said yes to interviews and photos, and thank you to all of the people who have been following the journey. It was an honor to get the chance to spend a month seeking out the voices and views of young America.
PS: Here’s a Soundcloud playlist of all of the main episodes of Alternate Routes and here’s a link to the first Alternate Routes post, if you want to relive the trip from the beginning.
Vote! If you want to make a difference make our government get rid of the electoral college. Make every vote count! Don’t be afraid to email or call your public officials. If you want to see change make a change! Research and then vote.