Step aside, baby boomers. Millennials are now in the driver’s seat for the country’s future.
Citing U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the Pew Research Center announced last month that millennials – those ages 18 to 34 in 2015 – usurped baby boomers (ages 51 to 69) as America’s largest generation. As of last year, there were 75.4 million millennials and just 74.9 million baby boomers.
Generation X (ages 35 to 50 in 2015) were ranked third at 66 million and are projected to pass the baby boomers in 2028.
Pew estimated that the millennial population – bolstered by immigration – would reach its peak at 81.1 million in 2036.
The Augusta Chronicle asked some prominent millennials in the Augusta area what role their generation should play in shaping America. The consensus was that they should embrace their responsibility in defining the nation’s future and build on what the baby boomers started.
“I think everything that’s been done since the baby boomers has set us up for now,” said George Claussen, the 30-year-old co-owner of Southbound Smokehouse and founder of Friends with Benefits, a promotion company with a focus on raising money for charities. “I think everything was done right by the baby boomers, but times change and technology changes.”
Claussen said there hasn’t been a better time for his peers to become more involved in their communities. At the same time, he said, millennials need to “make sure that we’re ready to take on those positions and get involved, whether that’s philanthropy or opening new businesses.”
“When you’re stuck in the past and you’re trying to deal with the present, it’s impossible for you to focus on the future,” he said. “I think our generation is really the one who can really take a grasp on that and can see that far in the future.”
That’s why Johnston, S.C., Mayor Terrence Culbreath became involved in politics. At age 33, he represents the higher end of the millennial age group but is also one of the youngest to hold office in South Carolina.
After graduating from Strom Thurmond High School, Culbreath spent time in Florida, North Carolina and Missouri before settling in Atlanta for an internship with rap group Outkast, later becoming a sound engineer.
Through Outkast, he was introduced to Kasim Reed, who was running what turned out to be a successful campaign for mayor of Atlanta.
“The light bulb went off,” Culbreath said. “It wasn’t a TV ad or seeing it in the paper. It was a guy running for mayor of this city and he’s here and I’m asking him questions. It made (politics) tangible at that point.”
He returned to Johnston in 2010 and ran a successful bid for city council two years later. In 2014, he became one of the youngest mayors in the Southeast.
In order for millennials to push the U.S. into the new age, he said, they have to quit standing on the sidelines.
“Young people need to prepare themselves for those seats at the table that are going to be vacated,” he said. “I didn’t want to come in and say, ‘I’m young and I don’t want to listen to the old guy.’ No, I’m here to learn. I feel like more millennials need to educate themselves on more than just social media and video games because we’re next.
“We’re not trying to change (government) or break it, but push it. We’re Americans, man. We’ve got to go boldly into the future. That’s what baby boomers did.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean millennials need to run for office, he said. Voting is another way for those voices to be heard.
A separate Pew study released this month found that baby boomers and millennials each comprise roughly 31 percent of the voting-eligible population, though the younger generation remains “far from the largest generational bloc of actual voters.”
“It is one thing to be eligible to vote and another entirely to cast a ballot,” the study said.
That’s why Josh Snipes, 24, feels it’s up to his generation to not only inspire each other, but also motivate the next generation to value those opportunities and learn from the generations before them.
“We’re teaching life skills,” said Snipes, who teaches geography and sociology at South Aiken High School. “Only half the stuff we teach is the actual content.
“We’re in the driver seat. A lot of the students we have, we might be the only adult they see on a daily basis. We make a huge impact on them. We’re paving our own future, I feel like.”
Kennedy Middle School teacher Blakely Burch, 27, said her parents taught her the value of hard work.
“My parents instilled in me to not be a quitter,” she said. “I feel like they weren’t lazy like kids now. They were hard workers and they knew what it was like to live paycheck to paycheck.”
It’s up to millennials who are teachers to instill those values into the younger generation, she said.
“We need to practice what we preach and be the role models for them so when they get our age, they can be the role models,” Burch said. “Teachers were the ones who taught us to pay it forward.”