Melissa Harris-Perry: This is The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. The Next100 is a progressive think tank working to support the next generation of policy leaders. It's partnered with the GenForward Survey to find out how millennials and Gen Zers feel about the US government and about the level of trust in local and state officials expressed by these young Americans.
The survey, conducted last November and December, shows that young adults, especially low-income individuals and people of color, feel a general lack of trust in the government. What's more, they say they feel underrepresented and disconnected from policymaking decisions. One of the findings is this, Black respondents and respondents with a household income below $60,000 were the least likely to feel like full and equal citizens in our nation.
Here to tell us more about this generation of distrust is Francisco Miguel Araiza, who is Deputy Executive Director of the Next100. Welcome to The Takeaway, Francisco.
Francisco Miguel Araiza: Thank you.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's just start. Tell us a little bit more about the Next100.
Francisco Miguel Araiza: Absolutely. The Next100 is a leadership development program and think tank working to change the face and future of progressive policy by addressing the historical exclusion of individuals and communities from the policy-making table. We provide the support, the skill development, and the platform for people who have been directly impacted by policy issues or proximate to those issues and communities to drive policy change. We believe that changing who makes policy and how policies are prioritized, developed, and implemented will lead to more effective solutions and a more inclusive, democratic, and just America.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right. Tell us a bit about the survey. We've talked to some of the GenForward folks before, and we know they've been doing these repeated surveys of young Americans. How was the survey conducted? Who are the people that you were talking to?
Francisco Miguel Araiza: Absolutely. The GenForward Survey is housed at the University of Chicago and it's led by Dr. Cathy Cohen. It is the only survey that is in the field on a regular basis that oversamples Black, Latinx, and Asian young adults ages 18 to 36. Now that oversampling of communities of color is intentional. They are traditionally not prioritized in this type of data collection, and it's what makes this survey really quite unique. It is one of a kind and the go-to survey to learn the attitudes of many young adults of color.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let me ask this about the big takeaway that young people have distrust in government. Don't young people always have distrust in government? Is this something new?
Francisco Miguel Araiza: Well, over time, we have seen some of the data that shows that trust has been increasingly declining towards government but what's so unique here is the focus on the specific population that we're talking about these young adults and young adults of color. They're not necessarily sampled in the way that they are in other surveys. What we found is that, not only do they feel disconnected from government, but there's just a crisis of confidence across the board.
This really presents itself in a number of different ways in the data. Overall, only 25% of young adults say they trust the federal government, which again, is really low, but is even lower when you look at young Black adults and young adults with a household income below $60,000. When we measured this disconnection between young adults and the government, we also asked other questions. For example, does the federal government care about people like me?
Only one in five young adults agreed with that, whether or not they believe that the government can relate to challenges communities like their space. Only one in five agreed with that. There's a number of ways in which we measured, not just the trust but, I think, the connectedness and the way that young adults feel reflected and perceived by government. Findings were pretty bleak, overall.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let me ask, if in 1967, or maybe even in 1975, if the GenForward index 100 had existed then and I'd gone out and pulled the population of people who are the baby boomers but then were young adults, wouldn't they have told me, "Oh, yes, I don't even trust anybody over 30. Whether they're in the federal government or not"?
Francisco Miguel Araiza: Yes, I think that that is fair. There's definitely a lot of that underlying distrust across, specifically those eras, because there was a lot of civil unrest and clearly, the civil rights movement was a big push during that time. One of the tensions that I see, again, I don't think there is an equivalent, and that speaks to the genius of the GenForward survey and the team at University of Chicago with Dr. Cathy Cohen. Is the fact that they have prioritized these communities through the survey.
One thing that I'll say is that a lot of that distrust is mirrored but also the passion and the drive for change and social justice and racial justice, I think you'd also find the parallels there between the two groups.
Melissa Harris-Perry: What does this mean for the future of American democracy? Will young people grow up, get a job and get over it, or are we looking at something that could have real long-term effects for how Americans relate to our government?
Francisco Miguel Araiza: I think it's important to think about the way that the disconnect informs a skepticism of our government more broadly. Young adults think of government and public policy as not really effective paths to make change. Only about half of respondents considered themselves politically engaged or active. They really thought about working for the government as one of the least effective methods for making change in their community. In fact, they thought signing a petition could be more effective than working for government. Generally speaking, Asian, Black, and Latinx young adults were less likely to rate voting as an effective strategy for driving change than White young adults. We also saw that there was a differentiated impact on whether or not the plan to engage in activities such as voting when we compared that to either White or more affluent peers.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Is there a path forward? I mean, here you are at the Next100 working to support a whole new generation of policymakers. Will these young policymakers find that their counterparts don't trust the work that they're doing?
Francisco Miguel Araiza: We hope that is not the case. Again, unsurprisingly, this lack of trust really translates into a broad disinterest in government as a career path. When we talk about only one in four young adults trusting the federal government, it's a really low share but there is really a reason for hope. There was a silver lining in these findings. Where that really centered was around an overwhelming majority reporting that they were more likely to trust government when leaders come from their communities. That really speaks to, I think, a path forward for society as a whole.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Francisco Miguel Araiza is the Deputy Executive Director of the Next100. Thank you for being here.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.