Last night President Obama’s message was clear: “We the People…Our Constitution begins with those three simple words,” he explained, “words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together.”
Generations United agrees. This inclusive preamble speaks to how the lives of Americans - young, old and in between- are inextricably linked. And together, he explained we face “a time of extraordinary change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet and our place in the world.” At the heart of the change are our dual changing demographics. In our signature report Out of Many One: Uniting the Changing Faces of America, Generations United explains- “Americans are living longer and healthier lives. We are more racially and ethnically diverse. There is a growing generation gap. Today more than half of Americans under the age of five are people of color compared to less than one in five Americans over 65.”
The president said that as a nation we should come together to embrace the change, rather than face it with fear. At Generations United we see an incredible opportunity to use innovative approaches to stimulate cooperation and collaboration among generations, evoking the vibrancy, energy and sheer productivity that result when people of all ages come together. We believe that we can only be successful in the face of our complex future if generational diversity is regarded as a national asset and fully leveraged.
The president noted “Progress is not inevitable. It is the result of choices we make together. And we face such choices right now. Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people? Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, what we stand for, and the incredible things we can do together?” Because we are stronger together.
Three areas the president touched on stand out as opportunities for intergenerational solutions: Employment and Economic Security, Education, and Civic Engagement.
Employment and Economic Security:
The president highlighted how economic trends have squeezed workers even when the economy is growing. It’s made it harder for hardworking families to pull themselves out of poverty, harder for young people to start on their careers and tougher for workers to retire when they want to. Generations United’s highlighted key recommendations to address employment challenges and opportunities facing our nation’s younger and older people in Out of Many, One.
President Obama also affirmed the critical role of Social Security and Medicare in income security. These programs should be strengthened, not weakened. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who sat behind the president as he spoke, experienced the value of Social Security first hand as a young child. Read his story and learn about the value of social security for all generations in our publication Social Security: What’s at Stake for Children, Youth, and Grandfamilies.
The president highlighted the connection between opportunity and education to ensure “every American has…the training needed to land a good-paying job.” He called for Pre-K for all and the importance of making college affordable for every American. For many years, Generations United’s Seniors4Kids program has advocated for early investments in children, Pre-K in particular because of the impact on all generations. Learn more about Seniors4Kids here.
The president explained that “our collective future depends on your willingness to uphold your obligations as a citizen. To vote. To speak out. To stand up for others especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us.”
He highlighted how that spirit of engagement and interconnectedness is evident across the ages. “I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early because he knows she might someday cure a disease….. I see it in the elderly woman who will wait in line to cast her vote as long as she has to; the new citizen who casts his for the first time; the volunteers at the polls who believe every vote should count, because each of them in different ways know how much that precious right is worth.”
Intergenerational strategies are key to civic engagement and passing the value on from generation to generation. In a study with MetLife Mature Market Institute, Generations United found 73% of grandparents said voting is a value they are currently or are interested in passing down and nearly 50% are passing down the value of volunteering and civic engagement. Read more in Grandparents Investing in Grandchildren and find strategies in Out of Many, One.
In closing the president proclaimed “I stand here, as confident as ever, that the State of our Union is strong.” And it is, and will continue to be, if we understand our changing race and age demographics are our country’s greatest assets. We are stronger together.