Sarah Swanbeck, Executive Director, Berkeley Institute for Young Americans, explains the complex challenges that younger US generations are experiencing, as part of a worldwide Intergenerational Fairness Day.
What does the Berkley Institute for Young Americans do?
The Berkeley Institute for Young Americans is a research centre located at the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. The Institute was founded in 2015 to bring together scholars, policy advocates, and youth leaders to envision a new paradigm in public policy that advances an equitable, sustainable, and prosperous world for future generations.
The Institute aims to better understand the new and complex social, political, and economic risks that young people coming of age in the 21st Century are facing. We undertake path-breaking research to better comprehend these challenges and to develop the public policy interventions needed to solve them. We do this by incorporating both quantitative and qualitative data in our research and by collecting new data when publicly available sources are not available. We also leverage our position as a research hub to engage with youth leaders, organisers, policy-makers, researchers, and funders to understand where there are opportunities for our research to help inform their advocacy. Using our research, as well as insights from these stakeholders, we aim to develop policy interventions that are equitable and fiscally sustainable for current and future generations.
On this day, we ask policymakers around the world to educate themselves about the unique risks that younger generations are taking on as they enter adulthood and to better understand the institutional failures that led to this moment. To that end, BIFYA has compiled a list of our key research efforts that define the unique problems for future generations, as we see them, and that lays the groundwork for thinking about a new policy paradigm that will create a sustainable, equitable, and prosperous society for future generations:
Poverty and social safety nets
Today’s policy infrastructure was designed for the economy and labour force of the 20th century, not for the modern world or for the future. Our research in this area sheds light on the new risks arising from a changing labor market and a cost of living crisis, and considers policy solutions through both market intervention and government redistribution. We have documented the increasing number of young adults living in poverty, and the inability of the social safety net to address this problem. We have also explored failures in the current social safety for young people, especially during recessions, and ways in which it could be strengthened.
Sustainable funding in ageing populations
Budgets at every level have been affected by shifting demographics and growing costs for entitlement programs that were guaranteed to earlier generations, such as pensions and retiree health care. Investments in areas like education, infrastructure, and other government services have been “squeezed out” to accommodate these growing costs. At the same time, the tax system has locked in advantages for older, whiter populations at the expense of young generations. For example, some of our research on California’s property tax system finds that restrictions that have been put in place around levying new taxes and taxing property at market rate, have grandfathered in significant tax advantages for some property types.
Votes and young people
Whether and how young people engage with civic institutions will have direct implications for public policy outcomes that affect their futures. We aim to better understand the voting behavior of young people, what they value and what they want from political candidates, and other ways in which younger generations engage in the democratic process. Our recent research in this area considers the research evidence for lowering the voting age and looks at the history of efforts to lower the voting age in California.