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Can We Keep Gen Zers From Fleeing America?
Preply did a national survey of Gen Zers that was published last month & found that more than half of them were seriously interested in or actively considering permanently moving out of America..
Young Americans have a resource those of us who came of age before the late 1990s lacked: instant and easy access to information about people and life in other countries. Between the Internet and social media, Gen Zers have a better understanding of what life is actually like overseas, and they’re liking what they’re seeing.
Or, put another way, they’re looking around at America and not liking what they’re seeing.
The language tutoring site Preply did a national survey of over 3,000 Gen Zers, published last month, and found that more than half of them are seriously interested in, or actively considering, permanently moving out of the United States.
For a bit over a quarter of them, the main attraction of living in the UK, Canada, Japan, Netherlands, Singapore, Switzerland, Australia, Germany, Ireland, or Italy (the top 10) was free or low-cost access to healthcare and higher education.
Because Republicans have fought any effort to institute Medicare for All or anything like it (12 Red states won’t even expand Medicaid!), the United States is the only developed country in the world that lacks a national healthcare system and has millions of people without any health insurance whatsoever.
While a half-million American families are wiped out every year by medical debt and must declare bankruptcy, every single one of the top ten countries Gen Zers are considering moving to offers a free or near-free national healthcare system where nobody ever goes bankrupt just because somebody in the family got sick.
Similarly, because Governor Ronald Reagan ended free college in California — and then, as president, took a meataxe to the Education Department, cutting its budget and programs by over 20% — America is now the only developed nation in the world where widespread student debt is even a thing.
American students are carrying almost two trillion dollars in college debt, but each of the top ten countries on the Gen Z list offers free or nearly free college. In several of them, in fact, students get paid or earn a stipend to attend college.
Another 17.7% of Gen Zers told the surveyors they were thinking of moving overseas because they wanted to get away from America’s toxic political environment.
While all their top 10 countries have racist, nativist, rightwing movements in them, the US is the only one where such hate and vitriol have become the calling card of a major political party and realistically threaten to engulf the entire nation.
One in seven told researchers they wanted to feel safer, particularly from the omnipresent American risk of being shot, or to experience lower rates of stress.
Shootings are the leading cause of death for children in the United States: all of Gen Z’s top 10 countries have rigorous gun control laws and not a single one feels the need to traumatize their children with active shooter drills and armed guards in their elementary schools.
Add these numbers up and you find that escaping Republican policies, guns, and rightwing hate is the main motivation for 56.9% of Gen Zers who are exploring permanently moving out of the US: only 8.8% were thinking of moving to find a better job, and only 18.9% wanted a new “cultural experience” (which also could mean escaping US politics).
We look at the mostly Gen Z people fleeing Venezuela or Guatemala for our southern border and correctly conclude it’s a symptom of governmental failure in those countries. Nations don’t experience high levels of young people wanting to flee when the quality of life is high, healthcare and education are readily available, and the risk of being shot because you pissed off a driver or had the wrong color skin is pretty much nonexistent.
There’s no huge exodus of Canadians, for example, wanting to start a new and better life in the US. Outside of crackpots like Ramaswamy, no American politician is calling for a northern border wall with Canada because Canadians — with their national Medicare for All system, reasonable gun control, widespread unionization, and nearly free public colleges — aren’t interested in leaving.
But here in America, forty years of neoliberal Reaganomics policies have gutted America’s middle class, cutting it from almost two-thirds of us down to around 43 percent: over $50 trillion has been extracted from the wealth of working-class people in America since 1981 and transferred directly into the money bins of the morbidly rich.
Three American billionaires today own more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of Americans: 166,000,000 people.
Reagan’s policies have made nearly a thousand Americans into billionaires (there were only 13 of them before he came into office and the richest had a mere $6 billion), while impoverishing two full generations of young people.
For example, when my Boomer generation was the same average age as the Millennial generation is today, back in 1990, our generation held 21.3% of the nation’s wealth. Louise and I shared in that wealth; although we were still in our 30s, in 1990 we owned a profitable small business (our fourth) and a nice home in suburban Atlanta.
That was, in fact, the “American dream.” It was normal then, before Republican changes to the economic rules of the nation fully set in so billionaires and giant monopolistic corporations could bleed us all dry.
Millennials today, in contrast, are about the same number of people as Boomers were in 1990 but hold only 4.6% of the nation’s wealth and, if they’re the same age I was in 1990, they’re most likely struggling to own a home, are deeply in debt, and find it nearly impossible to start a small business.
Yes, you read that right. Boomers in their 30s owned 21.3 of the nation’s wealth; Millennials in their 30s today, thanks to 40 years of Reaganomics, own only 4.6% of the nation’s wealth.
And the story for Zoomers is even worse.
As a Kinsey study of Gen Z found, reported by Forbes:
“This cohort is going through what looks like a decline in economic opportunities. Saving for retirement seems out of reach and will become even harder. Almost 60% of Gen-Zers say their basic needs are not being met.”
Similarly, St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank researchers note:
“In the second quarter of 2023, younger Americans owned 70 cents for every $1 of wealth owned by Gen Xers, on average, at the same age.”
With all the handwringing about immigrants wanting to come into the US, we’re missing the larger crisis: young people who are looking at the damage 40 years of Republican policies have done to this country and are seriously considering fleeing.
Before we again wave the flag of “American exceptionalism,” we must make the United States a country where our own young people want to stay and build their lives and families. Until that time, we can’t lay claim to being the “greatest country in the world”: our own wannabe expatriates give the lie to that label.