What Worries the Next Generation?

August 1, 2003 | By Robyn Singleton

Young Americans are nearly as worried about paying their doctor bill as they are about terrorist attacks, a new Gallup study shows.

Among adults of all ages, availability and affordability of health care tops the angst meter, according to the July study comparing the top worries among Americans.

The survey of about 1,000 respondents shows people in their late teens and 20s are chiefly concerned abut terrorist attacks, with 56 percent saying they worry “a great deal” about that. Next comes health care, with 52 percent greatly worried, then crime and violence, at an even 50 percent. The economy, the environment and unemployment follow in strength as stressors.

Stephen Smithers, a 25-year-old Kankakee Community College student, took one look at Gallup’s list of 11 troubling topics. Instantly, he singled out health care as his top concern. He favors a nationalized health system on the same order of that in Canada, he said.

“I think the majority of people my age—all ages, really—feel the brunt of skyrocketing health care costs,” he said.

With no health insurance, Smithers, a full-time student, pays $200 monthly out of his own pocket for medicine to help his asthma and allergies. Health insurance would cost about the same as the medicine, he said. The community college does not offer an insurance plan and Smithers has outgrown the age limit of 19 most insurance companies set for dropping dependents off their parents’ policies. Full-time students commonly can stay on their parents policies until 23, insurance agents said.

“Young people are a greatly uninsured group,” Gwen Hopkins, with Hopkins Group Insurance, said. “They’re invincible. They’re never going to get a disease, as far as they’re concerned.”

Stephanie Griffin, 19, is still covered by her parents’ health insurance policy. But Griffin, an elementary education student at KCC, also singles out health care as her main concern.

“Terrorist attacks—yeah, you see that on TV. But actually I think they have that under control,” she said.

“But health care—I’m covered by my parents now, but I’m already worried about it,” she said.

Smithers and Griffin are part of the “Millennial Generation,” so labeled because they came of age around the turn of the century.

In their book, “The Next Great Generation,” authors Neil Howe and William Strauss say Millennial’s are richer, better educated and more ethnically diverse than their predecessors. Adults in this age bracket, born between 1974 and 1985, were born into the unusually peaceful and prosperous era of the 1980s and 1990s, disturbed only by one short economic recession and the brief Gulf War, the Gallup study said.

“Compared to the Vietnam War and the civil rights turmoil faced by those who came of age in the 1960s, these were ripples in a sea of relative tranquility,” Gallup editor Linda Lyons wrote in her analysis of the study.

Then came the dot-com dirge and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, shocking many young people out of complacency, she said. Worry about possible future terrorist attacks among 18- to 29-year-olds rose by 10 percent this year, up from 51 to 61 percent in 2002. In other age groups, concerns about terrorism dropped or stayed the same, the study shows.

“I think a lot of people my age were shocked to learn people in other parts of the world disliked America enough to do something like that,” Smithers said.

When it comes to anxiety over medical expenses, Millennials are more like their parents. A full 55 percent of all adults say they worry a great deal about health care. About 14.6 percent of the population, 41.2 million, had no health insurance, according to 2001 Census Bureau figures. Young adults, the Census Bureau points out, are the least likely of any age group to have health insurance.

“It’s becoming a huge problem for everyone,” Hopkins said. “People are finding out healthcare could cost them everything they took a lifetime to build.”

Millennials differ from their elders most on issues of environment, unemployment and drug use. While drug use is one of the two top concerns among seniors, many teens and twenty-somethings never heard of the “War on Drugs” waged in the ‘80s.

“I see drug use as no big deal,” Smithers said. “People who know better don’t do it.”

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