CNBC’s “College Voices 2020” is a series written by CNBC fall interns from universities across the country about coming of age, getting their college education and launching their careers during these extraordinary times. Colette Ngo is a senior at Chapman University double majoring in broadcast journalism and business administration. The series is edited by Cindy Perman.
Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Senator and Democratic candidate for Vice President Kamala Harris celebrate outside the Chase Center after Biden accepted the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination during the largely virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention, in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., August 20, 2020.
Kevin Lemarque | Reuters
In an election of many firsts, the impact of young voters was pivotal in the presidential race.
“I voted for the first time ever during this election,” said University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine student Sameer Ahmed. “Our collective voices matter now more than ever, and I am very pleased to have seen the increase in young voters for this election.”
Young voter turnout increased by at least 10% in the 2020 election compared to 2016, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University. And, they overwhelmingly supported Joe Biden – 61% of voters age 18-29 cast their ballot for Biden compared to 36% for Donald Trump.
The electoral map looks a lot more blue if you are just looking at the youth vote.
Abby Kiesa, deputy director of CIRCLE, explained that young people drove the momentum during this election cycle by uplifting conversations about racial justice, acting as poll workers, registering others to vote, and volunteering for campaigns.
“Many young people overcame incredible challenges this year to speak strongly for change,” said Kiesa. “The pandemic has hit young people harder in some ways, especially youth of color – who were more likely than all voters in 2020 to miss an event, lose a job or income and know someone who died.”
There were also major differences between voters by ethnicities. For young white voters, around 51% voted for Biden. While young Black, Asian, and Latino voters supported Biden by larger margins of 87%, 83%, and 73%, respectively, according to CIRCLE.
“From this election, I have learned the importance of the black vote and how critical communities of color were,” said Brionna Bryant, a graduate student at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. “The impact that cities like Detroit, my hometown, Philadelphia and Atlanta created by having record numbers of voter turnout, flipping red states blue, and ultimately helping determine the turnout of the election proves the power we have to influence change.”
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One of the key factors for the record turnout among young voters was social media.
First, a lot of social media outlets worked hard to get out the vote — and make sure young voters were registered. And, social media, whether it’s TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram or Twitter, is where a lot of young people get their news and information and share ideas.
About 28% of young people reported seeing information about the election on TikTok, up from just 20% two years ago, according to CIRCLE. And, it’s not just about reading political news and information, it’s about sharing it. Two-thirds of students said posting political media online made them feel more empowered – and represented.
“Social media allowed me to take a stance on what I believed in and who I thought would be the best candidate, also it allowed me to spread resources to peers and engage in topics about key issues that are important to me, said Bryant.
So, with more young people engaged in the political system, what do they want to see Joe Biden and Kamala Harris deliver on in the next four years?
What we know about Biden’s plan:
President-elect Biden has already announced a coronavirus task force. He also plans to increase Covid-19 testing, supports a national mask mandate and is focused on distributing vaccines for the coronavirus. He has steered clear of endorsing a national lockdown. Biden also said he would build on the Affordable Care Act that currently provides more than 20 million Americans with health insurance. Through the Biden Plan, he wants to give Americans more choices for their health coverage, lower health-care costs and an easier system to navigate.
What students want:
Students said they want to see President-elect Biden handle the coronavirus pandemic better than President Trump and they want all Americans to have access to health care.
Ahmed, who is majoring in health promotion and disease prevention, expressed confidence in Biden.
Biden’s team “has clearly communicated their science-backed plan to combat the Covid-19 pandemic,” Ahmed said. “I believe that this administration will successfully lead the U.S. recovery from the pandemic and various other injustices that plague our nation.”
Students described the Trump administration’s response to Covid-19 as a “mishandling of the pandemic,” especially as Black and Brown Americans have gotten sick and died at far higher rates than white Americans and they’re more likely to be uninsured.
“Racism infiltrates our health-care system as Black and Brown people disproportionately lack access to affordable health care and health insurance,” said Kayla Campbell, a Master of Accounting student at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. “The people deserve to be mentally and physically well.”
Young voters hope that Biden and Harris will provide a fair opportunity for everyone to be as healthy as possible.
“I have faith that this administration will work to aid the most vulnerable members of our society that slip through the cracks of our broken health-care system, as well as make this a more equitable nation for all Americans through creating public option health-care plans and investing in care for vulnerable populations,” said Ahmed.
Racial wealth gap
What we know about Biden’s plan:
Biden has pledged to make reforms to the criminal justice system and use the Justice Department to address systemic police misconduct. He has made racial equality a key pillar of his Build Back Better plan, which includes plans to provide opportunities, resources and investments for Black and Brown entrepreneurs, as well as access to higher education, relief from student debt and affordable housing. He also plans to boost retirement security, ensure fair compensation and promote diversity in leadership across federal agencies.
What students want:
Students want justice for the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others by acts of police brutality. The want an end to discrimination. And they want systemic change to help close the racial wealth gap.
About 27% of young people attended marches or demonstrations this year, up from 16% in 2018 and 5% in 2016, according to a poll by the CIRCLE. They’re fed up with inequity in our society and were an integral part of advocating for change. Many students held Black Lives Matter protests on their campuses, carrying signs that said things like, “How many weren’t filmed?” and “Silence = Violence.”
A student holds a sign that says, “How many weren’t filmed?” during a protest of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others on the campus of Chapman University in Orange, CA.
Photo: Orion Huang
Covid-19 exacerbated the racial wealth gap, hitting Black and Brown communities especially hard.
The U.S. unemployment rate was 6.9% in October but was 10.8% for Black workers and 8.8% for Hispanics, according to the Labor Department. And, while most small businesses took a hit during the coronavirus pandemic, Black- and Latino-owned businesses were hardest hit, according to a report from the National Bureau of Economic Research.
“To put it frankly, it is appalling that ‘the typical white family has eight times the wealth of the typical Black family and five times the wealth of the typical Hispanic family’ as the Federal Reserve Bank emphasizes,” said Campbell, who is the Student Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Ohio State University.
She added, “The racial wealth gap needs to decrease through the eradication of systemic barriers, discriminatory biases, and employment benefit injustices.”
Alternatively, some students want to see the racial wealth gap addressed from a bottom-up perspective. The pandemic has accelerated the process of eliminating low-skilled labor jobs, said Cruz Venegas, a Master in Finance student at Ohio State University’s Fischer College of Business.
“The importance of skilled labor has risen, so, incentives like potential loan forgiveness for completing a degree or trade school can encourage more Americans to pursue a sustainable career,” said Venegas. “Expanding these policies will at least give more people the opportunity to uplift themselves. This is one example, however simply taxing the hyper wealthy does not solve the foundational issues that often cause the situations we tend to examine.”
What we know about Biden’s plan:
Biden has proposed forgiving $10,000 in student debt for all borrowers. There are currently 42 million Americans with student loans and the average balance is around $30,000, so that would help some students alleviate their debt — but not all. He has also proposed forgiving the remaining debt for those who attended public colleges or historically Black colleges and universities and earn less than $125,000 a year.
What students want:
The cost of higher education is rapidly rising and paying off student debt is a major burden for a staggering number of students. They are worried about finding jobs after college and being able to afford rent while also paying their bills, including student loans — and saving money for their future. And, the coronavirus pandemic has made their job search even harder – so student loan forgiveness is a top priority for students. Having a huge loan hanging over their heads even in a good economy is a big drag on their path to financial success.
Students want Biden to make good on his pledge to launch a student loan forgiveness plan – and they want him to do it quickly.
Biden’s plan to forgive the rest of the debt for those who attend public colleges or historically Black colleges and earn less than $125,000 “is an effective and honorable plan, which will influence individual and generational wealth in the long-term,” Campbell said.
Bryant, who is pursuing a career in forensic accounting, would like Biden’s plan for loan forgiveness to be implemented within his first year of being in office. She would also like to see him expand the federal Pell grant program, which is aimed at helping low-income students pay for school. These grants are based strictly on financial need and, unlike student loans, they don’t have to be paid back.
“I would like to see Joe Biden and Kamala Harris deliver on their promise to increase the number of middle-class Americans who can participate in the Pell Grant program and the grant value for individuals already eligible for Pell,” said Bryant. “I believe that debt forgiveness can boost the economy and stimulate growth amongst Americans.”
What we know about Biden’s plan:
The pandemic has driven a massive shift in jobs and industries. The Brookings Institute estimates that 42% of jobs lost due to Covid-19 will eventually be gone for good. Students are graduating into a severe recession where they will have to navigate a volatile workforce.
The Biden campaign says their jobs and economic recovery agenda is to build the economy “back better than it was before the Covid-19 crisis.” Biden’s plan includes tax credits for companies that create new jobs in the U.S. and a tax penalty for companies that move operations offshore that make products that are brought back to the U.S. Moody’s analysis estimates that 18.6 million jobs will be created during Biden’s first term, helping to boost household income and drive down the unemployment rate. Biden is also planning to provide further relief to working families, small businesses, and communities.
What students want:
Students want to know that they’re going to be able to get a job when the graduate as they launch their adult lives. They’re also worried about the economy and the coronavirus pandemic.
“I hope to pay off my student loans and assist my mom with her homeownership also. I have aspirations to enter the job market with a level of financial security,” Campbell said. “I hope this administration will make wealth, health, and other wellness aspects more equitable for underrepresented people in America.”
Philip Goodrich, a Chapman University student and president of the school’s Student Government Association, noted that getting the coronavirus under control is key to getting a healthy economy – and the job opportunities that come with it.
“We cannot have a stabilized economy until we get a grip on the virus,” Goodrich said. “Biden and Harris promise to listen to public health experts, advocate for economic aid to help businesses and families, and promote practices, such as a national mask mandate and investments in testing, to get the economy back up and running in a safe manner.”
Venegas said he does not want to see another shut down of the economy.
“Shutting down the economy a second time shows uncertainty about the future which will cause a second wave of panic that will negatively impact most businesses and the overall job market,” Venegas said.
Bryant, who is pursuing accounting, agreed.
“Although I have employment lined up post-grad, the reopening of the economy will be critical to the industry I will be entering and the clients we serve,” Bryant said. “It will also be crucial for other students who have had difficulty being recruited during this time.”
In a critical year for politics, many students said they voted for change this 2020 election — and for change to happen soon. They are hopeful for the future but will also be holding the Biden administration accountable.
“I am most looking forward to a change in the overall culture and political environment in the United States,” Goodrich said. “For the past four years, our country has exuded divisiveness, hate, and a false notion of American exceptionalism. I am optimistic that President-elect Biden will bring us back to an era of respect and civility, but this is a task that will take time and collective effort.”
What does this mean for the 2024 election? Gen Z will be tasked with the responsibility to sustain monumental change.
“We’ve seen many indicators that Gen Z is extremely engaged, mobilizing friends and have an urgency to drive change. Sustaining engagement requires support, though, and I hope communities and philanthropy will support the organizations that provide opportunities for young people to get engaged and work on issues facing communities.” Kiesa said, “There’s a lot more that election administrators, teachers, households and families can do to bring more and more diverse young people into democracy. When more young people are involved entire communities benefit.”
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