Here's what millennials really need: Their own AARP

  • Millennials are getting the short end of policies like Obamacare and Social Security.
  • What might help is to get them their own lobbying group modeled after AARP.
  • There are three issues where a lobbying group could help millennials: voting, entitlement programs (like Social Security and Medicare) and health insurance.
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You name the issue. From health insurance to Social Security, home ownership to college tuition, millennials and most Americans under the age of 50 are getting the short end of the stick. Here's a solution: Get them their own AARP.

AARP was originally known as "The American Association for Retired Persons" but ditched that title officially in 1999 as it successfully sought out new members and support from Americans a bit younger than the typical retirement age of 65. But well before then, it had already become an enormously influential organization.

It's so powerful that many critics, often led by deficit hawk and former Senator Alan Simpson, complain that AARP's lobbying and financial influence make it impossible to rein in and reform spending programs and America's massive debt.

Love it or hate it, the AARP gets results, and has been getting results for years for Americans near or already in retirement. Now it's time younger Americans got an AARP of their own. And here are the top three issues where a powerful lobbying organization could make a difference for them:

1) Voting

Let's deal with the elephant in the room first. The number one reason younger Americans are getting screwed is very likely because they're screwing themselves by not voting.

It's a chicken-and-egg situation. Are younger Americans less likely to vote because American politicians don't engage them, or do American politicians decide not to engage with younger Americans because they're less likely to vote?

Either way, it's extremely obvious that younger voting-age Americans do not vote as often as older ones. The Pew Research Center says that the number of voting-eligible millennials, (ages 18-35), and voting eligible baby boomers, (ages 52 to 70), both hit an equal number of 69 million people in 2016.

But baby boomer voter participation in the 2016 election was nearly 20 percentage points greater than millennials at 68.7 percent to 49.4 percent. That means millennials left nearly 14 million of their votes off the table compared to baby boomers last year. It's an understatement to say that kind of data undermines any political or social agenda younger Americans want to pursue.

So things have to start, continue, and end with more voter participation. How to make that happen is the harder part. It certainly will need to go beyond voter registration drives. But this has to be job No. 1 for any younger person's lobbying group.

2) Entitlement programs

More and more younger Americans are convinced they won't benefit from programs like Social Security and Medicare when they become old enough to be eligible for them under current rules.

An "AARP for younger folks" could do two things: It could lobby to push for higher taxes and less spending elsewhere to save programs like Social Security as they are. Or, it could advocate for reforms and "opt-out" measures that would increase the chances of younger workers at least getting some kind of financial benefit from it when they retire.

I think reform is the best strategy. The AARP and several other groups have already been lobbying for measures to shore up Social Security for years. They've met with limited success as America's demographics simply cannot support continuing to guarantee current level benefits without massive changes to our taxes and spending.

The latest annual report by the Social Security trustees continues to predict that within 17 years, Social Security beneficiaries might have to expect to get only 77 cents on the dollar for their promised payments because that's when the fund will start to go into the red. The most recent Medicare trustees' report predicts that program will become insolvent in just 12 years.

Advocating for more taxes or massive spending cuts elsewhere also puts the job of fixing Social Security and Medicare squarely into the same federal hands that screwed it up in the first place. In this way, millennials and other younger Americans can simultaneously push back on this trend and declare their true independence as a generation by demanding that their savings be managed and safeguarded by themselves.

Not many statements make a bigger impact than when someone says they want to keep their own money and will also take more responsibility for how it's spent, saved, or invested. In other words, taking a stand in favor of serious Social Security and Medicare reform will be a great way for any younger American advocacy group to prove it's not just aggrieved, but also isn't looking for any more external "help."

3) Health insurance

A big reason AARP was founded was because of the need for affordable health-insurance plans for older Americans. That was back in 1958.

Fast forward to 2017 and younger Americans are the ones who seem to be getting the least representation and the shortest end of the stick on health insurance. This became startlingly clear when Obamacare was built on the notion that requiring younger and healthier people to pay more, (in some cases a lot more), for health insurance would level out the costs for everyone else.

But then, young Americans revolted.

They may not have revolted or spoken out with protests in the street or even in their general voting habits. But they voted with their wallets as millions more healthy young Americans opted to skip Obamacare and pay the federal penalty for not buying an insurance plan than the experts predicted. This is a major reason why Obamacare is in trouble, insurers are leaving exchanges, and the repeal and replacement process in Congress is under so much pressure now.

But only a handful of Republican Senators, led by Ted Cruz of Texas, are really pushing hard to restore the right of all people to buy the most bare-boned health-insurance plan that they'd like. And no one really seems to be focusing on representing younger people and questioning why they're being burdened with supporting health care for everyone else. A young person's AARP could really come in handy in this area.

This doesn't mean younger people should be more selfish, but it does mean that they could greatly benefit from a lobbying group that makes sure other means besides soaking them are used to shore up health costs in the future.

Think about it: If you're a younger worker you're already supporting older Americans pretty significantly with your Medicare taxes. Now, you're also being expected to prop up the older generation by having to buy expensive health premiums for yourself.

When does this multi-front attack on these younger workers end? If politicians from either party want to appear magnanimous by spending other people's money, let them spread the pain along every age group, or take age out of the equation entirely.

There are other areas where millennials and all-American workers under 50 could really use a powerful lobby group of their own, but keeping it simple on the issues of voting participation, entitlements, and health care are logical places to start. Those three issues are a big reason why AARP became so powerful and profitable, and it's a blueprint millennial activists and entrepreneurs alike should follow.

Commentary by Jake Novak, senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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