The youth vote is a valuable vote to have and one that all politicians should strive for. We are your future voting base, the next generation to believe in the political system or to continue a pattern of mistrust in government. Governor Mills’ leadership could determine that fate. As young voters, we demand the same respect and representation as other Maine constituencies.
Governor Mills has not fully represented young people and therefore does not have a guarantee that young people will vote in November. More often than not, Mills’ actions have excluded young people from politics, even when young people offer solutions.
The failure to close the Long Creek Youth Development Center or nurture the energy future of young Mainers, along with many other examples, leaves young people feeling unsupported and disillusioned. Important advances, such as the child tax credit, relief checks and two-year tuition-free college, are welcome exceptions to the rule.
Young people need not just a few policies, but all policies designed with them in mind. Having a voice in policy making is essential to shaping the future and to the success of Maine’s economy and democracy. Making space for youth in our political system ensures a higher level of political engagement, innovation, and the development of new projects, research methods, and programs that will make Maine a state that young people move to, not out of it.
Maine has a high rate of “brain drain”. This loss of highly educated young people has become a huge factor in economic stagnation and the decline of the state’s social capital. According to the Maine Population Outlook: “If the young working-age population (20-39) is taken into account, this group will decline by 4.5% from 2018 to 2028.”
The sad truth is that if young people want specific training, high-paying entry-level jobs, or living wages, many decide to leave the state because of minimal access to these opportunities. At Maine Youth Power, we hear these themes and lived experiences come up regularly when we speak with youth on our base. Young people grapple with these difficult choices; leave or stay in the place we call home.
While Maine is in the upper bracket of minimum wage nationally, the reality is that sustaining just one worker is still not enough. Our state’s housing crisis and nonexistent public transit system are forcing young people to pay more than they should to live in Maine, leaving many more with no choice but to leave the state.
Coupled with unlivable conditions, if young people want to stay and increase their voice in Maine’s political system by running for public office, their ability to do so is affected by the low compensation Maine legislators receive. Young people cannot have the idea of running for such a position because they do not have the means to do so. The average age in Maine is around 45, while the average legislator is more than 10 years older (55 in the House and 57 in the Senate, according to a 2015 study). In Maine, if we can’t buy or rent a house, and can’t choose to represent ourselves or be represented by someone who shares our experiences, then why would we stay?
It is in Maine’s economic interest to change these dynamics in order to build a future for Maine that includes the next generation. Governor Mills, by standing up for our issues, will see an increase in our vote.
We know that young people are motivated, civic and engaged in the community. They represent the most mobilized group of climate activists and are leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as countless social movements for a better future. Young people have the ability to reinvent the system that no longer works. We place a high value on innovation and creativity, which Maine needs to build a more sustainable, equitable and affordable state.
Commentary: How Maine can close the workforce skills gap