The kids are all right (and these surprising statistics prove it)

Despite a seemingly gloomy present, the future of the US looks bright, believes Mike Males. Research suggests that young Americans are turning away from crime and drugs and towards tolerance and inclusivity

Despite a seemingly gloomy present, the future of the US looks bright, believes Mike Males. Research suggests that young Americans are turning away from crime and drugs and towards tolerance and inclusivity

As their elders deteriorate into social epidemics and reactionary nationalism, young Americans as a generation are avoiding crime, violence, prison, dropout, and other major life determinants and adopting more inclusive, global attitudes.

This isn’t “kids are all right!” romanticism; it’s a confluence of hard facts and trends. As American politics seems increasingly hopeless, striking generation gaps in attitudes and behaviours have emerged. Leaders and experts don’t comprehend how seismic youth improvements have been or what’s driving them.

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The gap begins with demography. The census finds Americans under 25 (51 per cent white, 25 per cent Latino, 14 per cent black, 5 per cent Asian, 5 per cent other/mixed) to be far more diverse than their elders (aged 55+: 74 per cent white).

In harbingers such as California, nearly three-quarters of young people now are of colour, and half have at least one foreign-born parent. That’s what America’s future looks like.

And they’re leading a revolution. The statistics look like typos, but they’re real.

As California’s teenage youth population grew by 1 million from 1990 to 2015, Department of Justice, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and census figures show their murder arrests fell from 658 to 88 in Los Angeles (and in the notorious city of Compton, from 269 to 8), violent crimes from 21,000 to 7,000, property felonies from 54,000 to 7,000, total criminal arrests from 220,000 to 63,000, gun killings from 351 to 84, juvenile imprisonments from 10,000 to 700, births from 26,000 to 7,000, and school dropout rates from 16 per cent to 6 per cent. College enrolment and graduation soared (from 34 per cent to 47 per cent).

In the 1970s, 10 per cent of young Californians were arrested every year; in the 1990s, 7 per cent; today, 2 per cent.

While erudite magazines recycle tiresome railings against “terrible teens,” California teenagers are acting better than adults in nearly all indexes. And not just privileged youth are doing so. Troubles plummeted in tough East Oakland (a neighbourhood in the city of Oakland) and the affluent city of Irvine alike. Not because authorities “got tough;” just the opposite. Very few youths get busted for pot, drinking, curfew or similar offences any more; arrests for “underage” this or that are fast disappearing.

Leaders and experts don’t comprehend how seismic youth improvements have been or what’s driving them

While California’s trends are especially pronounced, FBI and CDC data shows major declines in youth problems occurring across the country – from Connecticut to Texas, Michigan to Arizona, Atlanta to Seattle, in areas with vigorous anti-violence measures and those with none, with strong gun controls or “gun rights” regimes, with lots of kids in prison or few. Since 1995, the FBI’s 40 reporting states saw juvenile violent and property crime declines of at least 55 per cent; 23 had declines of over 70 per cent.

That large improvements among youth occurred in areas with very different conditions and policies makes them difficult for ideologues and experts to explain. Analyses show repressive measures that were supposed to make youth safer, like higher drinking ages, teen driving bans, and curfews, have either proven ineffective or made dangers worse. Little has been done to reduce staggering levels of poverty afflicting the young. College tuitions have soared, along with student debt.

The credit for improvements appears to lie with younger generations themselves. What experts like Princeton’s John DiIulio once considered the nightmare scenario – thousands more dark-skinned youth (“adolescent super-predators”) on the streets, less policed than ever – now looks like a beacon of hope in an America whose adults, from exploding middle-aged drug and crime scourges to political regressions, act ‘crazier’ every day.

Maladaptation to racial and social change appears to underlie real pathologies, particularly among aging whites. Middle-aged rural and suburban whites’ soaring death rates from drugs and guns are now higher than those of inner-city black and Latino teenagers. America’s fastest growing prison population is middle-aged whites, while younger people show big decreases. President Trump blames white malaise on drug-running immigrants and city-dwellers, but whites are 75 times more likely to die from self-inflicted drug overdoses and suicides, and six times more likely to be murdered by other white people, than to be killed by non-white assailants.

When it comes to America’s racial transition, driven by immigration frightening Trump-voting whites, California’s been there, done that. After the 1980s and 90s anti-immigrant/drug-war/crime-crackdown/school-defunding/prison-building panics, California’s new era of liberal reforms emerged – and Californian whites (a 70 per cent majority in 1980; a 40 per cent minority today) are doing splendidly, richer than ever, safer than whites elsewhere from deadly drugs and guns – and voting against Trump.

The credit for improvements appears to lie with younger generations themselves

That most older whites still refuse to accept a multiracial society accompanies a counter-reaction in which diverse associations contribute to young people’s positive trends. White youth living in and around immigrant-friendly Los Angeles and New York City are considerably safer from drug, suicide, and firearms death than white youth elsewhere in the country. Younger whites, particularly young white women, increasingly resemble non-whites in social attitudes, while older white people remain far more reactionary.

Polls and surveys consistently show younger people in the US strongly support gay marriage (and universally accept interracial marriage), religious tolerance, a “welcome all” stance toward immigrants, scientific reasoning rather than religious faith, action to reverse climate change, proactive government action on the economy and health care, and liberal/left candidates who act on these agendas. Americans age 50 and older generally hold the reverse positions; older whites still oppose interracial marriage, would ban all immigration, and harbour intense “racial resentment”.

Exit polls in the 2016 election showed the under-25 (anti-Trump) versus 45-older (pro-Trump) split exceeded 35 points. In many states, especially in the south, young and old occupy different political and social worlds. In California, a triangulation of exit polls shows, young white men voted against Trump by 20 points, young white women by 40 points, older white women by 10 points, and all ages of colour by 40-80 points; only white men 40 and older supported Trump. California maps the future of the US electorate.

A shrinking contingent of racist and violent youth who occasionally generate deplorable headlines remains, but they’re not symptoms of mass depravity. Hard-nosed facts and trends show future-oriented Americans should look to young people as validating progressives’ faith in diversity and globalism. Incorporating younger ages into voting, office-holding, and civic leadership are keys to activating the potential of today’s remarkable youth revolution to reverse the current destructive public fray.

First published by Yes! magazine

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