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The Obama agenda for millennials looks an awful lot like his agenda for everyone else

Just because you're also a millennial doesn't mean you share Taylor's economic interests.
Just because you're also a millennial doesn't mean you share Taylor's economic interests.
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Clear Channel

On the evening of October 8, the White House's Council of Economic Advisors released a 49-page footnoted listicle titled "15 Economic Facts About Millennials."

Some of the facts are interesting! But the most relevant fact of all is the one embedded in the accompanying fact sheet on President Obama's Agenda for Creating Economic Opportunity for Millennials. It turns out that millennials, like other Americans, are people — people who will be helped by general improvements in American life.

The agenda for millennials, in other words, is just a grab-bag of everything Obama has already been doing or aspires to do. It includes "actively working to make sure that patent trolls ... do not strangle American technological innovation."

The platform includes a plank about affordable rental housing that millennial renters will no doubt appreciate — as will renters of all ages. There is also a plank about making it easier to get a mortgage. And a plank about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau making it harder for you to get deeper into debt than you can afford. There's an item about cell phone unlocking, and a plan to install faster broadband connections in high schools. Taking tougher action against gender-based pay discrimination is great for millennial women, of course, but would presumably be just as great for older women. And roughly half of millennials — like other generations — are men.

Generational analysis, though a popular media frame, just turns out to be a not-so-useful way to think about public policy. Generations are too heterogeneous and the United States too riven by class, race, and gender inequities for there to be a coherent politics of age. Mark Zuckerberg, Taylor Swift, a waitress in Toledo, an Afghanistan veteran looking for a job, a community college student in Florida, a young teacher in Atlanta, a security guard in Las Vegas, and a medical assistant in Houston don't have some magic stockpile of common interests just in virtue of having been born in the 1980s.

(Council of Economic Advisors)

Obama's ideas generally either target too narrow a population (those with heavy student loans) to speak to all millennials, or else too broad a population (women suffering from discrimination) to speak exclusively to one generation.

Ultimately, if the Obama agenda did end up benefiting millennials, it would be for the exact same reasons that it benefited Generation X or anyone else — ideas to generate more rapid and more broadly shared economic growth would be great for everyone. To the extent that Obama's ideas would do those things, they are good for all generations. To the extent that they don't, they are not. That's the big argument in American politics, and it only implicates millennials because we are people too.

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