Young people are a huge sector of US society, whose voices are largely ignored by those who set the policies and make the laws. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there were 40,717,537 youth age 10-19 in the United States – that’s 14% of the total U.S. population. As one participant put it, “It’s important that adults understand that we are being affected by the decisions that are made for our country.”
And young people across the country certainly are feeling the effects of an economic and political system that benefits the wealthy and corporations at the expense of everyday, working people. Here are just a few examples:
The jobs crisis. In July 2011, the number of unemployed youth was 4.1 million, which puts youth unemployment at 18.1% (acc. to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). That’s more than double the national average.
The student debt crisis continues to ensnare an entire generation of college-bound young people with the nightmare of never-ending payments. The Federal Reserve estimates that outstanding student loan debt has surpassed $1,000,000,000,000 and college dropout rates are on the rise.
And we can’t leave out the attacks on public education in general, which have severely impacted children of color, and youth living in low-income communities. 60% of the federal budget goes to military spending, while a mere 6% is allocated towards education. And when states spend more than 3 times as much per prisoner as they do per public school child, as is the case in Illinois, no one suffers more than the young people (especially youth of color) being stripped of their potential and pushed into the school-to-prison pipeline.
Despite all of the devastating social and economic crises affecting the lives of young people in the US, social theorist Henry Giroux points out that “Children have fewer rights than almost any other group and fewer institutions protecting these rights. Consequently, their voices and needs are almost completely absent from the debates, policies, and legislative practices that are constructed in terms of their needs.”
But what if their voices and needs were central to the discussion around our federal spending priorities?
Why ‘If I Had a Trillion Dollars?’
The ‘If I Had a Trillion Dollars’ Youth Film Festival asks young people, ages 10-23, to share their opinions, ideas, and visions for the discretionary spending portion of the federal budget. The festival is geared towards educating and inspiring young people to engage in civic activism. With IHTD, young people have the opportunity to learn about federal priorities, explore their own priorities, and potentially travel to Washington D.C. to share their opinions with legislators themselves.
And on another level, the festival gives adult allies in the movement the chance to listen to and learn from young people about the most important issues affecting their lives. By circulating youth-produced short videos and creating a national audience for IHTD, we are able to integrate the diverse voices and ideas of visionary young people into the nation’s debate about the budget and federal spending.
It’s time to stop ignoring, and start listening, to the voices of kids, teenagers and young adults as we figure out how to solve the multitude of problems facing this country. Spread the word about ‘If I Had a Trillion Dollars’ with a young person you know today.