Congressmen Mike Thompson and Eric Swalwell listened to concerns of millennials at Sonoma State University on September 1 as part of the House Democrats' Future Forum tour. Many students were amongst the audience of about 40 who cited student debt and the financial difficulty of purchasing a home as major issues facing those age 20-35.
This was Swalwell's 17th campus visit since the Future Forum tour began in April 2015. The coalition of 18 young Democrats in the House of Representatives is committed to listening to and standing up for the next generation of Americans. Swalwell, 35, is the chair of the group.
"This forum is a demonstration of how 'generational politics' is changing both parties base coalitions," says Sonoma State Political Science Professor David McCuan. "It also demonstrates that 2016 is a critical election where the coalitions of the past will continue to clash with future voters far beyond this election itself."
Swalwell, whose district includes most of Alameda County, established a rapport with students and others in the audience by sharing that he is a renter of his East Bay home and has nearly $100,000 in student loan debt himself. "Student loan debt has put an entire generation in financial quicksand," he said. Part of the tour is dedicated to hearing personal stories and sharing what is and can be done about relieving the burden of student loan debt.
According to the U.S. Dept. of Education, federal student debt now stands at $1.3 trillion. The cost of owning a home and attending college has risen exponentially compared to inflation in the past few decades.
One student mentioned the need for more funding for mental health services like SSU's Counseling and Psychological Services. Congressman Thompson agreed that more funding is necessary for mental health services on college campuses.
McCuan says forums like this can generate real change. "Typically, we see some elements of change from these sessions," he says. "Congressional staff is assigned to follow up and take advantage of the ideas offered. We may also see follow-up sessions where ideas receive additional, specific attention."
The forum was moderated by Ricky Albanese, vice-president of finance for Associated Students.