When we pick our representatives, we think about race, gender, religion and sexuality. But what about age? Age is often an afterthought when the average age of a member of Congress is 58 while the median age of the average citizen is around 38.4 years old. Perhaps age ought to be a bigger conversation. After all, shouldn't our representatives be an accurate representation of us?
One of the biggest problems in politics is getting young people involved. Not only is our generation notorious for dragging its feet to the polls, but the lack of vocal, younger politicians creates a divide between the representative and a major constituency. This is no more clear than the last election alone. The United States Election Project, a research nonprofit, reported that only 43.4% of eligible voters ages 18-29 voted. Not too shabby until you consider that nearly 71.4% of those aged 60 or older voted. That's nearly a thirty percent difference.
In case age seems like an outlier between the two groups, the same project shows an increased percentage of voting the older the age blocs get. Clearly, age affects how politically active people are.
While young representation wouldn't be the end-all solution, having the emergence of new trailblazers such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (age 31), Ilhan Omar (38), Jon Ossof (age 34) and Madison Crawford (age 25) have opened new venues for a younger generation to enter into the political playing field. We can't underestimate the visual power of seeing youth being included in a predominantly old and white space. Not only does it inspire, but it also encourages new innovative ways to reach out to constituents. A prime example of this would be Jon Ossoff's campaign Tiktok account which garnered a lot of media attention and engagement on the platform.
Campaign methods aside, younger politicians are aligned more closely with the important issues to young people. Consider this, would the issues that are a priority for the 50-60 age demographic be the same ones that impact, say, a 19-year-old college student, a 23-year old entering the workforce or a middle-aged couple buying their first house, etc.?
This divide can even drive apart party loyalty. Back in 2019, in an interview with Politico, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had this to say about the Green New Deal: "It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive. The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they're for it, right?" Dismissive as it was, it was a great indicator of how certain time-sensitive issues aren't pressing for older generations. However, the youth don't have the luxury of ignoring these concerns.
How can we call Congress a body of representatives if we have a disconnect between our Senators and Representatives and what's important to us?
And so we don't forgive we forget, Congress has unprecedented rates of incumbency. Without new rivals to challenge seats, many Senators and House Representatives have become too complacent. This results in a stagnant Congress that won't and perhaps can't progress past the Congress it was ten, twenty, thirty years ago.
The demographics of the United States are always changing, thanks to our population's diversity. As the demand for more accurate representation grows, shouldn't age be included in that conversation?
Older generations have had their time to advance Congress as much as possible, but it's time to pass on the torch if we want to move past the political stagnation in America today. Younger politicians need a bigger space to mobilize youth, reach previously uninterested voters, bring relevance to new ideas, and above all, provide a voice for a newer generation.