Young Democrats find a topic that connects with millennials: Massive debt

Sarah D Wire

Millennials might look at California Rep. Eric Swalwell and think he's just another member of Congress, albeit one who looks younger than most of his colleagues. But then he talks about his nearly $100,000 in student loan debt.

“A lot of people in our generation think of Congress as an institution made up of people that don’t look like them, or go through experiences they have to go through. When you see members who do have student loan debt, you think, OK, maybe they do get it,” Swalwell said during an interview in his Capitol Hill office.

A year ago, the 35-year-old Democrat from Dublin, Calif., was tasked by House Democrats to lead a group of young — and youngish — lawmakers to connect Congress with the loosely (and poorly) defined generational group known as millennials, people in their 20s and early 30s.

After a year of stops at college campuses, start-ups and at least one brewery, the group, called the Future Forum, has heard a single resounding concern from millennials again and again.

“They are in financial quicksand across the country; Manchester [N.H.] to Los Angeles, from Seattle to Denver,” Swalwell said. “They have different backdrops but the same challenges. Student loan debt seems to be the one [thing] that no matter where you go, that is holding a generation back.”

Swalwell, who was first elected in 2012, said he's just recently knocked his six-figure student loan debt from earning undergraduate and law degrees at the University of Maryland below $100,000.

The Future Forum members hear stories from people they meet about ways student loan debt has stalled life's milestones, he said.

“Starting families later, not being able to buy a home, not starting a business, it’s all kind of the same reason: less money at the end of every month to do it because so much of it’s going out the door to student loan payments,” Swalwell said.

The meetings have spurred several pieces of legislation and are helping Swalwell's colleagues (In Congress, the median age is 57 in the House and 61 in the Senate) understand why they should pay attention to the up and coming generation, he said.

The 18 Democrats in the Future Forum include California Reps. Pete Aguilar, 36, Redlands; Ted Lieu, 47, Torrance; and Raul Ruiz, 43, Palm Desert; along with Reps. Joaquin Castro, 41, Texas; Tulsi Gabbard, 35, Hawaii; Joe Kennedy, 35, Massachusetts; Patrick Murphy, 33, Florida.