10 Issues and Trends that Will Define America's Public Policy Debate in the 2020s
Predicting the future is fraught with difficulties, and it's especially hard today because the pace of innovation is at an all-time high and new technologies have a broader impact on our culture and public policy than at any time in history. However, there are demographic, social and political trends that are a bit easier to predict with some precision and they will have a substantial impact on America in the 2020s [20s].
Moreover, there are also some long-term public policy issues like healthcare, the environment and income inequality that will continue to plague the nation until they are adequately addressed.
So, in no particular order, here are our predictions of the trends and issues which will most influence America's politics and public policy in the coming decade. And, yes, it's good to be a bit optimistic at this time of year.
1. Rise of the Millennials: Millennials [the name given to those born from 1981 to 1996] have just surpassed baby boomers as the largest age cohort in America and they differ substantially from boomers and the earlier "silent generation" [those born after WWII] on a host of issues including immigration, religion, globalism, race, the environment and LGBT rights. They are racially diverse, better educated, tech savvy, politically progressive, and less nationalistic.
Washington Post Citing Pew Research Findings: "The good news is that 80 percent of millennials “say America’s openness to others is essential, compared with 68% of Gen Xers, 61% of Boomers and 54% of Silents.” In keeping with their more inclusive views, “Millennials are the only generation in which a majority (55%) says Islam does not encourage violence more than other religions. … By about three-to-one (64% to 20%), more Millennials say NAFTA is good for the U.S. than say it is bad.” In addition, they are extremely supportive of immigration. “Millennials, in particular, stand out for their positive views of immigrants: 79% say they strengthen rather than burden the country. ” Unsurprisingly, as a generation, they are more likely to recognize that there is global warming (81 percent)."
Millennials represent America's future and gradually over the next decade they will take the reins of power at the state and federal level.
2. Aging Population, Falling Birthrates & Immigration Reform: America's birthrate continues to fall substantially below replacement level and that's unlikely to change in the 20s. At the same time, our population is aging, and baby boomers are retiring, leaving the workforce, and accessing social security and medicare. These dual trends will create a crisis by the end of the decade that demographers and economists now refer to as the "demographic time bomb" and it's already a crisis in other highly developed nations like Japan.
Washington Post: "Why does this matter? Well, it’s hard for an economy to grow with fewer workers. And as more people age out of the workforce, a swelling number of retirees must depend on a shrinking number of working people to power the economy. The tax base required to fund public services for those retirees — including health care and elder care — also shrinks."
If we don't address the problem soon, it will overburden our retirement and healthcare systems and undermine our economic competitiveness. There are two policy initiatives that America could utilize to combat the coming crisis. So far, conservatives in Congress have been loathe to support either, but that will change in the 20s.
First, America needs to embrace diversity and quickly craft a comprehensive immigration reform package that enhances our future workforce and grows our tax base to support the entitlement programs that workers paid into for decades. In the latter half of the 20s, the political standoff over immigration will finally subside as millennials, on the right and left, realize that America's greatest asset is her ability to attract bright young nurses, physicians, entrepreneurs, software designers, and farm workers from overseas. Congress will finally pass comprehensive immigration reform that legalizes the undocumented workers that are already here and expands annual legal immigration ceilings to provide the skilled and blue collar workers our economy needs to thrive.
Second, we will address the number one reason that Americans have decided to forgo having children - the insane cost of childcare. The average cost for full-time childcare has now reached $16,000 a year. According to a new survey conducted by Morning Consult for The New York Times, young families say it's the number one reason they expect to have fewer children.
Republicans and Democrats in Congress will reach a compromise during the 20s to address the childcare crisis by substantially increasing the Child and Dependent Tax Credit and making it fully refundable to low income individuals. That means the IRS would send any remaining credit to taxpayers as a refund.
3. Religion: Since the Second World War, each generation of Americans has become more secular and today fewer than half of millennials [49%] describe themselves as Christians, while 40% have no religion and 9% identify with an assortment of other faiths.
Western Europe went through a similar transition in the mid-20th century with few negative consequences and the nations of the European Union now guarantee freedom of worship while maintaining a high wall between church and state. Today, only a bit more than 10% of adults in Germany, France or the United Kingdom consider themselves "highly religious," and across all of Western Europe only about 14% say that "religion is very important in their lives".
To the displeasure of many white, conservative, evangelicals, America is heading in the same direction as Western Europe. In the coming years conservative Christian leaders will fight a rear-guard action to maintain religion's role in the public policy debate of such issues as LGBT rights, physician assisted suicide, immigration, religious freedom, and abortion. Their influence will slowly wane in the 20s along with their numbers. In 2012, 20% of the population identified themselves as white evangelicals, but by 2018 that number had fallen to 15%. By 2030 they will only remain a potent political force in some of the old confederate states like Alabama and Mississippi.
4. Demographics: America's racial and ethnic make-up is also changing and Donald Trump's election is widely seen by experts as a reaction to our growing diversity. Some non-Hispanic whites view this change with both suspicion and alarm, but no matter how many walls this President builds, change is coming, and fairly quickly. And Trump's policies and rhetoric will ultimately damage the Republican Party's fortunes by the end of the coming decade.
Brookings.edu: "For the first time, non-Hispanic white residents now make up less than half (49.9%) of the nation’s under age 15 population, newly released 2018 U.S. Census Bureau estimates show. This new data highlights the increasing racial diversity of the nation’s population, for which non-Hispanic whites now comprise only slightly more than three-fifths (60.4%) of all residents."
That will have an impact on the 2020 election and beyond. Whites will still make-up about two-thirds of those that go to the polls in 2020, but that percentage will continue to fall throughout the decade as the number of Asian and Hispanic voters increases. And, while 54% of whites voted Republican in the 2018 midterm elections, 69% of Latinos, 90% of blacks and 77% of Asians supported Democratic candidates.
5. Healthcare: Affordable healthcare became the number one issue for Americans in the 2010s and that trend will continue into the coming decade.
By the end of the 20s we won't have "Medicare for All", but we will have moved incrementally toward universal healthcare coverage by expanding the Obamacare exchanges to include a subsidized public option and allowing people in their 50s and early 60s to buy-in to Medicare.
Unfortunately, we won't make much headway on the other major healthcare issue, getting a handle on the costs of care and insurance. So, by the end of the decade, America will give up on finding "market based" solutions and embrace "Bernie-care" or something close to it. The healthcare insurance industry will spend billions to defeat universal coverage under Medicare's umbrella, but ultimately lose the fight in the early 2030s.
Conservative opposition to almost all progressive solutions to the growing healthcare crisis will hurt them in elections throughout the 20s.
6. Globalization and globalism aren't going anywhere. In the 2010s, we experienced the return of nationalism and nativism as a response to the banking crisis and resultant recession, globalization, immigration, the growing power of international institutions, and free trade agreements. Donald Trump, right-wing populist parties in Europe, and an assortment of strongmen in India, Brazil, the Philippines, and Turkey rode the nationalist wave to power, promising to put national, rather than global, interests first.
Despite Donald Trump's best efforts, America's nationalist and nativist tide will subside in the 20s for two reasons. First, globalization isn't a policy; it's a phenomena driven by technology and markets.
Illuminate: [It's] "simply the definition we give to the process of our world shrinking day by day as technology, trade, travel and so much more ties us more tightly together as neighbors on this planet. It's not an ideology, its the recognition of reality, a clear-eyed view of our future."
"That is not to say that the President couldn't slow the process of globalization or steer us to the side of the road as the world spins by us. Certainly some of his supporters would like to return to America's isolationist past, build a wall, increase tariffs, turn away immigrants and refugees, and slowly wither on the world stage. We would be replaced, of course, like all great powers have in the past, by nations with leaders who understand and embrace change and imagine the opportunities it provides."
Second, our current nationalist fervor is mostly a baby boom and silent generation phenomenon. Millennials, who have just passed boomers as the largest age cohort in America, are better educated, and broadly open to other cultures and the global economy, as we noted above. They view our growing diversity as a strength, and a globalized economy as an opportunity rather than a threat.
And generation Z [born after 1996] is even less into Donald Trump's nativist shtick. According to the Census Bureau, generation Z will be the first age cohort in which the majority “will belong to a minority race or ethnic group," and many more of them have lived or traveled overseas than previous generations. This has made them more tolerant of other cultures and comfortable with the tools of a global economy. They have grown up buying products from companies around the world, view America's racial and cultural diversity as an asset and are quite comfortable skyping with someone on the other side of the globe. The whole national borders thing seems a bit passe to them, xenophobia an affliction suffered by the old or uneducated.
7. Income inequality and its backlash: There is a debate going on about the extent of income inequality, [there are various ways to measure it], but there is no doubt that it's bad and getting worse.
lluminate: The rich continue to amass fortunes at a record pace while the majority of Americans see income gains which barely exceed inflation. A new Census Bureau report shows that income inequality is now at its highest level since they started tracking it in 1967.
The causes of income inequality are complex, but include the globalization of manufacturing, tax laws which have favored the wealthy, the decline of organized labor, a growing educational divide, and policies that favor the ownership of equities over wage labor.
Income inequality was an important factor in Donald Trump's election and the rise of Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren within the Democratic Party. Their prescriptions are wholly different, but these politicians have successfully identified the nation's exasperation with a system which results in stagnant wages for blue-collar workers while the top 1% amass increasing wealth. Trump and his supporters tend to blame immigrants and globalism for their plight, while those that back Sanders and Warren are more likely to identify corporate greed, inherited wealth, the demise of organized labor and tax cuts which have favored the wealthy.
Income inequality will continue to grow during the 20s, but the policy arguments in the coming decade will shift away from blaming immigrants and globalization, and move toward more progressive solutions like apprenticeships and vocational education , reviving organized labor, making college more affordable, raising the minimum wage, increasing the earned income tax credit and subsidizing child-care so more low-income parents can work.
Neither Sanders or Warren are likely to win the presidency in 2020, but their policies will influence the political dialog throughout the coming decade.
8. Deterioration of the Environment & Climate Change: In the age of Donald Trump it's difficult to be positive about our environmental future. The air we breathe is getting dirtier again, there are micro-plastics in the food we eat and the water we drink, and we seem incapable of having a reasonable, science-based conversation about climate change or the loss of biodiversity. The environmental challenges we will face in the 20s will seem overwhelming at times.
But, as 2019 closes, there is a ray of hope.
Americans are paying attention and many will vote for a better environment in 2020. A growing percentage of voters list climate and the environment as their top priority, according to a new poll. Of the registered voters surveyed, 14% said “addressing climate change and protecting the environment” was their number one priority in the coming election, compared with just 2-6% before the 2016 presidential election.
And that's important because there may not be another issue as dependent on the outcome of the upcoming election as the environment. Reelecting Donald Trump doesn't just mean not addressing our environmental challenges; it means they will be far worse and harder to fix in 2024 when the next Presidential election rolls around. But, if history is any guide, it might take a series of environmental catastrophes before Americans rise to the challenges we face. In any case, by 2024 environmental "denialism" will end as climate change will be too big to ignore and boomers will no longer be a decisive voting bloc.
9. The Debt, Budget & Taxes: The federal budget deficit will continue to grow far beyond the one trillion dollar mark that we will hit this fiscal year. At some point during the 20s we are going to have to address the deficit and develop a plan to fully fund Social Security and Medicare in the 2030s and beyond.
This may seem impossible given the current political climate, but the solution will involve a "grand bargain" in which Republicans agree to tax increases and Democrats agree to some reductions to entitlement benefits.
Among the possible tax increases, a carbon tax may be the most beneficial because it would raise a substantial amount of money [even if partially redistributed] while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It's also likely that the corporate tax rate will be bumped up again, although not to pre-2017 levels, and the cap on social security contributions by wealthy individuals will probably be eliminated.
10. Election 2020 & US Public Policy: The Presidential election in 2020 will either reflect the last gasp of Trump's Wall Street/white nationalist/evangelical coalition or usher in a new age reflecting the trends noted above. The popular vote in 2016 reflected the coming changes, but the Electoral College saved the old Republican coalition and may do so again in 2020.
If Donald Trump wins in November, he will be able to forestall major progressive policy initiatives for several more years, but, sooner or later, the 20s will be all about change as boomers hand the reins to America's next generation of leaders.
By: Don Lam & Curated Content