6 Crucial Money Questions Millennials Need To Be Asking This Election Season


I consider 2008 the first real election I participated in. Even though I was still too young (by months!) to vote, it was the first time I remember feeling actively invested in an election outcome. We were just coming out of two drawn-out wars, the economy was in a slump, and in general, things looked grim. Then along came Barack Obama, whose campaign slogan was literally “Hope” and who reinforced my faith in a system I’d so frequently seen fail. Obama’s victory was the first time I felt both hope and pride in our political process, and in many ways, it was a triumphant validation of the American dream my parents had always believed in — that in America, you could start from anywhere, be anyone, and with hard work and determination, push yourself to the top.

Eight years later, it’s hard to say the country is in a hopeful place. As part of the “millennial” generation, we’re the most diverse, most educated generation in history. Despite this, a lot of us are struggling. We’re taking on enormous debt to afford the degrees that are now considered “essential,” moving to cities that are supposed to have jobs, only to find we can’t afford to pay the rent, and barely surviving off the most stagnant entry-level salaries in decades. The economy might be recovering, the wars might be winding down, but for me, and many of the millennials I know, we’re looking at a future that’s far from hopeful, especially considering the vitriol of this election season. (Penis jokes on stage? Seriously?)

With all that in mind, here are six money-related questions millennials should be asking of their candidates this election season.

1. How are you planning to combat the student loan debt crisis?

Bernie’s plan for free college works great (if successful) for anyone currently in high school, but many millennials are going underwater with the debt we’re already struggling to pay off. The average debt burden for 2015 graduates was $35,000, making them the most indebted class ever— for now. Sixty-seven percent of students graduate in debt, and the majority of borrowers are paying back debt well into their 30s or older. Making college affordable and student loan debt manageable is one of the biggest concerns for a lot of the millennials I know.

Where the candidates stand: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton introduced a plan that would allow students to attend public colleges without taking out loans (while still requiring a “realistic” family contribution), and community colleges would be completely tuition-free. She would also require states to increase spending on higher education in exchange for federal funds. Sanders, as mentioned, plans to make college tuition-free for all students and public universities, and fund it through taxes on Wall Street. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Clinton both support a significant decrease in interest rates for student loans and a simplified income-based repayment plan.

On the right, Ted Cruz voted against several proposals to lower loan interest rates, and he wrote and presented an amendment in 2013 that would cut Pell grants for low-income students and federal funding for historically black colleges and universities, and for community colleges. Donald Trump hasn’t introduced specific plans for making college affordable, but it should be noted that he created a now-defunct, for-profit online college called Trump University, which is currently the subject of two lawsuits charging that it defrauded thousands of students out of millions of dollars.

2. How do you plan to create good jobs for recent grads?

Unfortunately, despite a recovering economy, the job market for recent grads remains pretty grim. Fifty-one percent of employed 2014 college grads are in jobs that don’t require a degree, while a third of recent grads report making less than $25,000 a year. Basically, there are way more college grads than jobs. And particularly with unpaid internships becoming the new entry-level position, having a leader who is able to continue President Obama’s job creation progress should be a key consideration for anyone just starting out their careers.

Where the candidates stand: Few candidates have addressed how they plan to create entry-level jobs specifically, but from the Democrat side, both Sanders and Clinton have supported increasing the federal minimum wage significantly, which would actually have a significant impact on millennials’ job prospects, considering millennials comprise 61% of the people earning the minimum wage. Some argue a higher wage might mean hiring fewer inexperienced workers like millennials, while others argue the research doesn’t bear this conclusion out. Sanders also introduced the Employ Young Americans Now Act bill, which would create up to one million jobs for youth aged 16-24, and would allocate $1.5 billion for job training to increase prospects for youth unable to attend college.

Cruz voted against bills that would have increased the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, while Trump mostly points to his record as a “job-creator” through his various corporations. Almost all Republican candidates have put forward a new tax system which in theory, by lowering taxes would increase income; most notably, Cruz proposes a flat 10% income tax, significantly lowered corporate tax rates, and the elimination of almost all tax deductions and credits. Analysts have pointed out that under most Republicans’ regressive tax plans, the only people better off would be the already-wealthy .01%.

3. What’s your plan to fix the wage gap?

White women currently earn 78 cents to a white man’s dollar, while African-American women earn 64 cents, Hispanic women make 54 cents, and Native Americas make 59 cents. Thanks to this, women make an estimated $530,000 less over their lifetimes, and that gap widens for women of color. And it snowballs from there. Women who make less money have less in savings, and will receive fewer benefits from social security. Closing the income gap over women’s lifetimes is a central part of ensuring that women have the same opportunities for income growth, investing in assets, retirement savings, and overall financial health as men. And as millennials, we’ve got a lifetime of earning potential ahead of us, so the sooner that gap closes, the better.

Where the candidates stand: On the left, Clinton was the main sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which bans employers from telling employees not to talk about pay and narrows what counts as “business justifications” for gender pay gaps. She is also the co-sponsor of the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which gives women more time to bring wage discrimination complaints. Sanders voted for both acts, while Cruz voted against both.

4. Where do you stand on reproductive rights?

Yes, this is a financial question. Not only are kids expensive AF, but it’s well documented that having kids impacts a woman’s lifetime earnings, which means it’s even more important to be able to have them when you can afford them. I’m pretty sure I want kids down the line, but I’m even more sure that I need to finish grad school, start my career, and be way more financially prepared before I do so. In this respect, my ability to access affordable birth control (thanks, Obamacare!) is hugely beneficial in making sure I’ll be able to have kids when I’m ready for them, financially or otherwise. This goes even further with access to abortion providers. I’m fortunate to live in Manhattan, where I’m confident that if I ever needed an abortion, I’d be able to get one without an unreasonable amount of inconvenience, but this is clearly not the case nationwide. In an age where Planned Parenthood is under attack every other week and states are tripping over themselves to enact even more restrictions on abortions, having a president who supports women’s reproductive rights is more important than ever.

Where the candidates stand: Unsurprisingly, every Republican candidate is pretty ardently pro-life, from Ted Cruz thinking birth control is an “abortion-inducing drug” to Trump calling Planned Parenthood an “abortion factory.” Clinton and Sanders are both staunchly pro-choice, and both support continuing federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

5. What are your policy proposals for supporting work-life balance?

The biggest pieces of this question are paid family leave and childcare. Studies show that paid maternity leave boosts retention, keeps women in the workforce longer and at higher salaries, and offers new moms the break they physically need, improving both mental and physical health outcomes. Also, this one isn’t just for the ladies. Studies show that men who take paternity leave end up more competent, committed, and involved in their children’s’ lives down the line. Yet somehow, the US remains the only developed country on Earth that still doesn’t guarantee paid sick or maternity leave to its workforce.

Where the candidates stand: Clinton and Sanders have both called for plans to give U.S. workers the right to paid family leave. Clinton has also called for more funding for childcare programs, while Sanders advocates for universal preschool. 

6. Where do you stand on retirement plans for the younger generations?

Yes, for many of us in our 20s, retirement seems a long way off. But that doesn’t change the fact that our retirement funds are facing a significant shortfall compared to our parents’ generations. Most companies have eliminated fixed pensions in favor of employee-funded 401ks, while social security’s reserve fund is expected to run out by 2030, which means an estimated monthly benefits cut of 21%. Although more and more millennials are slowly saving for retirement, with the cost of college, student debt, and other adulthood expenses, many young adults are still far from where they need to be in terms of retirement savings, which means keeping an alternative source like social security afloat should be something millennials start advocating for as early as possible.

Where the candidates stand: Democratic candidates generally want to protect current social security benefits and plan on making up the revenue shortfall with tax hikes on high-income workers. Republican candidates, with the exception of Trump (who has advocated for keeping social security where it is) favor raising the normal retirement age and implementing policies that will eventually cut monthly pensions across the board.

Meghan is a national security researcher and occasional photographer in NYC. You can find her on Instagram.

Image via Unsplash

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  • Mj D’Arco

    While I appreciate that you guys talk about financial empowerment please leave politics out of this. Your readers can research the candidates on their own instead of receiving selected policy pieces. Also where is the section about free trade agreements? True, a lot of millennials are college graduates, but not all of them, and some might like jobs in manufacturing. Please don’t tell people what to think, there is enough of them on both side. And oh! i voted for Bernie on the primaries

    • We can talk about free trade all we want but that doesn’t change the fact that good blue collar careers require training. I say this as someone who has labor union and blue collar people in my family who are heavily involved in training programs. Blue collar workers need skills-based education which largely comes from technical schools or community colleges or unions and these function on grants or through student loans. So people interested in blue-collar jobs will still need education and the channels they go through will be covered by certain federal programs, including the community college programs proposed by the candidates. Undoing NAFTA isn’t going to get them affordable training for hi-tech manufacturing.

      • Mj D’Arco

        true, but is it as expensive as a 50k a year college tuition for four years? and if you have good paying blue collar jobs options, will you still be flocking to universities, or going iinto the type of programs that will allow you to perform those jobs. Of course everything take training, but it needs to cost benefit analysis, and bringing those kind of jobs back in the us can only give people more options… plus <3 made in USA

  • egust01

    This is clearly skewed to favor the left. I would’ve appreciated and probably taken more seriously a piece that was 100% bipartisan.

    And by the way- raising the minimum wage will not help our economy. It will just make everything else more expensive. Why don’t people understand this?

    • Michelle

      Definitely agree, a true bi-partisan piece would also really dig into the AFFORDABLE college tuition arguments vs. free college tuition.

      • I’m confused, do either Trump or Cruz have an affordable college plan? I thought the author was just outlining the plans instead of making an argument about them one way or the other. If there is a plan by either Republican candidate can you link to it please?

        • Michelle

          The best website I can find was this one – https://www.credible.com/a/2016-presidential-candidates-on-student-loans

          I was a Rand fan until he dropped out and he was for it being affordable and not free (also outlined on the link). So now i’m kinda stuck with a bunch of candidates who I don’t agree with at all on the college affordability front. College has never been free so it makes no sense (to me at least) to make it free now but it is absolutely at a price way too high for most people!

          • meep

            The site you mentioned doesn’t even cite Trump’s plans, and the author mentioned the main actual policy move made by Ted Cruz– that he voted to repeal the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, which would lower student loan interest rates. Granted, she didn’t mention that he advocated for getting rid of the DoE, but I don’t see how including that would make this piece less “favorable to the left.” It’s great that Rand had better ideas, but he’s also not in the race anymore and has not been for several months, so I’m unclear on why highlighting him in a piece like this is relevant.

            I’d love for all the people saying this piece wasn’t “bipartisan” (which I’m taking to read that it didn’t have enough nice things about the two GOP candidates left in the race) to point to actual policies, proposals, or legislative history that they would have wanted included. I personally think the author did a nice job of highlighting candidates’ stances without explicitly recommending one or the other. Personally, I haven’t seen either Trump or Cruz come out with actually positive stances on any of these issues as they relate to me, but I’d love to see some evidence to the contrary– if it exists.

          • Michelle

            So I can’t mention that i’m a Rand fan? OK

            But if you really want to get into the nitty gritty here is what I have to say – I am neither a Trump, Cruz, or Marco Rubio fan but for a majority of the points there is not adequate right-wing information provided (like point #5, nothing republican mentioned there). There is not a single negative democratic comment in this article.

            Honestly all of these issues highlighted in this article assume i’m a millennial who is not at all concerned about a ) the economy (and the wage gap is not the only concern we have in our economy) b) Wall Street doing whatever they want c) Immigration!!! and so many more. Work life balance? What about those of us who DON’T HAVE JOBS.

          • meep

            So, I’m not trying to start a comment war here so I’m going to jump off after this one. In order:
            1. I think it’s great to be a Rand Paul fan and I find some of his policy ideas interesting, so I see the appeal. However, this is an article about this coming election. Rand isn’t in the election any more. Therefore, I was merely questioning why it would be relevant to include his plan for college affordability when he’s clearly not going to be running this time around. It’s the equivalent of including Fiorina or Jindal when they are no longer relevant to this election
            2. #5 is the only point that doesn’t mention Republican policies. Are there any policy proposals Cruz or Trump have made on work-life balance that should have been included? I can’t think of any off the top of my head.
            3. Re: democratic criticisms, I don’t really see the author explicitly criticizing or praising anyone in this piece. It’s more an outline of who’s proposed what. And the reality is that these are not issues the republican candidates left are great on. your points would be more convincing if you pointed to actual policies/positions the Dems advocate for that you think are not good/vice-versa for the Republicans, instead of making blanket statements about partisanship.
            4. #2 literally talks about millennials who don’t have jobs/the state of the economy/job creation, so I don’t see where this criticism is coming from.

          • Meghan K

            Hi Michelle! Author here, thanks for reading and sharing your perspective. I wanted to share a few thoughts based on your comments.

            First, this wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive analysis of all issues that Millennials should be concerned about in this election. You’re absolutely right that issues like immigration and Wall Street are things we should be concerned about as well. My intent in writing this article was to point out six things that I feel have a strong impact on my personal finances– from paying off my student loans, to finding affordable contraception. There are obviously a lot of other great issues that we, as the younger generation should care about– and question in this election season, but to name them all would be beyond the scope of this article.

            Second, I think it’s hard to write a completely non-partisan piece when a lot of these issues are things that I personally feel really strongly about. That’s why, for the most part, I tried really hard to just mention the candidates’ positions without inputting my own analysis as to whether a certain plan was good, bad, or unfeasible. It’s true there’s a lot of flaws and things to criticize in the way Bernie and Hillary are proposing plans for healthcare/education. In my view, this article was intended to serve as a starting point to show where the candidates stand, based on actual legislative voting decisions they’ve made, bills they’ve introduced and voted on, or policy proposals they’ve made in this election cycle. Unfortunately, Cruz and Trump just don’t have a lot in the way of concrete policy proposals; Trump’s record is obviously limited, being that he’s never held office; and I’ve stuck to Cruz’z record wherever possible. It should also be noted that I wrote this piece when Rubio was still in the running and he was one of the few contenders who had a plan of some sort for things like affordable college and paid leave. So if this seemed one-sided, that’s partially why. If there are things I’ve missed here, please do feel free to share w me– I’m not an expert and obviously still learning, so I’m always happy to learn more!

            I tried to write this piece not as a “pros and cons” piece, but as a “here’s what the landscape looks like on these issues.” I hope this addresses some of the things you brought up. In any case thank you for reading and your feedback!

          • Michelle

            Thank you for responding Meghan! I am by no means republican, I am a textbook centrist so hearing both sides of the story is important to me. You stated that the questions you listed “should” be asked by us but maybe it would have been more appropriate to say these have been asked by you, since as a diverse group of millennials our concerns are not all the same. I am not sure what your demographic is but I was raised in the south, work in energy, am a first-generation american, and while I have debt it is manageable because I have a good job (luckily). While you saw hope with Obama I saw an increase in health care costs which has caused me huge money issues, as well as some self-employed people I know. I just wanted to throw that out there because that is what first triggered to me that this was a biased piece.

            Some other things that could have made this piece seem less subtly left-leaning would have been to detail that Ted Cruz may have voted against lowering student loan tax rates but he is also thinks education should be a state issue not a national issue

            Also as it regards taxes, republicans are always going to be more fiscally conservative and want less taxes and less “meddling” by the government. Heck Cruz wants to abolish the IRS (you forgot to mention that). Less taxes would be great, and I cannot be the only millennial who has over 1K taken out every pay period (ouch I know), and there is also plenty of evidence out there that says his tax plan would help boost the economy.

            As it regards wage gaps, this is not something I personally have to deal with as a woman working in STEM as much (it’s less common here). But I heard about the acts you mentioned and I’ll just throw this out there for you to consider:

            Ah and my favorite, reproductive rights. I can sympathize with the pro-choicers and the planned parenthood debacle is a mess. You got me on this one! Personal opinion here – we could fix this is we educated woman on their bodies more. But I digress.

            Finally, Work-life balance is a fairly social issue, so you can expect that no republican candidates will address it and Social Security is another one of those issues that republicans will never support because it encourages big government.

            Once again thank you for replying, I don’t think you’re awful for writing this piece or anything you are entitled to your own opinion as I am entitled to my own. I hope you take my comments as constructive criticism, I it’s agree it is hard to not have an emotional response to this election and the issues you mentioned!

    • meep

      what concrete policy proposals/plans would you have included to make this 100% bipartisan? genuinely curious.

  • Bri

    Thank you for writing this! I feel like some people don’t understand that politics affects our finances in so many ways, so it’s important to talk about. I don’t think this favors the left so much as it states what the candidates do or don’t stand for, period. If you think it does lean towards the left then that’s probably because you don’t like what the Republican candidates are proposing but don’t want to admit it. Anyways, thank you! Please don’t be discouraged by any of the negative comments, I found this very helpful!

    • Meghan K

      Hi Bri! Thanks for reading, I really appreciate this comment 🙂

  • Jack

    As a pretty (extremely) left-leaning person I also thought this article was somewhat left-leaning, in generally subtle ways. The framing of the issues (student debt “crisis,” “fix” the wage gap, even “reproductive rights” as opposed to “access to birth control” whatever conservatives call it) takes a more liberal viewpoint, which then sort of sets up the “Cruz/trump don’t intend to fix this” response on the republican side, because these are the issues republicans generally don’t care about.

    That said, TFD is not a Hard News site and contains opinion and personal viewpoint in so many pieces, that I think it’s a bit much to get inflamed that this piece is the same – especially because, as a site that skews to the millennial, presumably more female demographic the issues covered are the ones a lot of the readership would care about. 20-something women in NY don’t have the same investment in gun control as they do in equal pay because they are affected by the wage gap daily but already live in a place with really strict gun laws. It would probably be more balanced to have a similar article highlighting candidates’ stances on more traditionally conservative issues, though I’m not sure it would be as useful to the people who read this site (and I’d bet the comments would be even more outraged).

    • Meghan K

      Hi Jack! Thanks for reading and sharing your perspective. You’re right– I mostly focused on personal finance issues most important to me as a millennial woman that have the potential to be impacted by this election’s outcome. I absolutely have strong views on a lot of other issues. Working in national security, gun control and defense are big ones, but TFD is not a news site, or a political analysis site, and as such, I focused on financial issues that impact millennial women. I really appreciate your point about the “subtle” left-leaning parts of this piece. Writing a completely politically-neutral piece is difficult when you’re so personally invested in these issues, and that’s something I’ll definitely pay more attention to detail the next time around!

    • Michelle

      Thank you for putting this more eloquently than I could 🙂