02/21/2012 11:58 EST | Updated 04/21/2012 05:12 EDT

Millenials: Victims of the Drummond Report

For members of the Millennial generation -- those born in the 1980s and 1990s (though some measures include the late-1970s as well) -- self-expression and free speech are especially important with the proliferation of social media. Through avenues such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, this is an especially connected generation and, in countries such as Egypt, these values of self-expression and networking through social media have even helped facilitate dramatic social change.

In the United States, Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign attracted Millenial support through extensive use of the internet and social media outlets, allowing many of these youth to feel an integral part of the campaign.

However, in addition to these greater avenues of speech and expression, this generation faces serious economic pressures. Since the 1970s, inequality between the rich and the poor has grown as the middle-class has come under assault from neo-liberal policies of small government, gutting of social programs, and reliance on tax-cuts to the rich -- so-called "trickle-down" economics.

This generation faces an uncertain job market -- made worse by the 2008 economic collapse. More jobs are minimum wage, temporary, or contract, making it harder for people of this generation to establish themselves. Furthermore, they are faced with the increasing requirement for post-secondary education at the same time as there are rising tuitions and declining student grants, saddling this generation with increasing student debts. The Millennials are the first generation that will be worse off than their parents.

These points were highlighted by Bill Moyers, a journalist and former aide to president Lyndon Johnson, on his PBS show. He interviewed a member of this generation -- Heather McGhee -- who works for the think tank Demos. She highlighted the negative effects of neo-liberalism on this generation. While Moyers' show is American -- and McGhee was speaking about the United States -- these are similar issues faced by Millennials here in Canada: uncertain job prospects, mounting student debts, and governments often unwilling to help.

In Ontario the McGuinty government -- faced with mounting deficits and a slowing economy -- commissioned a report on how to deal with the deficit, the Drummond report. The recommendations include drastic cuts to public services -- including cuts to education (full-day kindergarten which can provide an important head start to children from non-affluent families) and an abolition of the 30 per cent post-secondary education tuition rebate put in place by the McGuinty government.

Fiscal responsibility is important and governments should not spend recklessly. However, what the Drummond report neglects is that many of the proposed cuts could actually make the problems of debt and deficit -- in particular through declining tax revenue -- even worse through measures that would hit the Millennial generation especially hard.

By making post-secondary education more expensive -- by repealing the 30 per cent tuition credit -- the problem of mounting student debt would be made worse. This is a problem that hinders many new graduates from purchases such as buying a new home -- because of the dark-cloud of student debt -- thus inhibiting consumer spending, an important driver of economic growth.

In our 21st-century economy, a skilled workforce is especially important in attracting investment and for youth to find meaningful and well-paying jobs. If post-secondary education is made more expensive, this would inhibit many youth from this option, in many cases condemning them to minimum wage jobs, thus hindering their ability to fully contribute to our society's economic life.

Higher tuition burden falls especially hard on those from middle and lower income backgrounds thus inhibiting upward mobility -- or even the ability to maintain the standard of living of one's parents.

A focus on fiscal restraint and less government can inhibit government from playing an active role in helping youth attain needed skills, in helping them connect to the job market, and in helping to spur job creation.

That these aspects of the Drummond report could serve as a framework for other provinces facing deficit problems is especially worrisome. It is true that difficult decisions in the long-run will have to be made, but any approach has to be balanced with considerations of fostering economic growth, and of helping a Millennial generation faced with an especially rough -- and less certain -- path into the middle-class.

Of course none of this is helped by a federal Conservative government that needed to face a threat to its own power -- of being replaced by a Liberal-NDP coalition in 2008 -- to even act on providing a stimulus bill to spur job creation in the aftermath of the Wall Street economic collapse. It does not help either that the Conservative government's priorities are building unneeded prisons -- and filling them through "tough on crime" legislation -- and buying fighter jets instead of trying to help an embattled generation of youth.

All this is compounded with proposed Conservative legislation that would provide sweeping powers to monitor individual internet activities -- a big brother approach that threatens to invade an important bastion of the Millennial generation (and of Canadians as a whole).

This is not to say there are not Millennials who are doing well in the job market, that there are not those who are succeeding. However, the paths to upward mobility are more treacherous than in generations past. We need governments that realize and prioritize this through policies and approaches aimed at helping Millennials, not ignoring or further burdening them.