LTTE: The radicalization of Generation Z


Around five decades ago, Martin Luther King Jr. uttered a quote that doesn’t get too much recognition. “The problem is that we all too often have socialism for the rich and rugged free enterprise capitalism for the poor. That’s the problem.”

Generation Z was brought into the world in the midst of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. Growing up, Gen Z has seen two major economic collapses in their lifetimes with the second one currently ongoing with no end in sight.

A 2018 Gallup poll, found that the majority of  Americans aged 18 to 29 had a positive view about socialism (51%) than they did about capitalism (45%). This represents a 12-point decline in young adults’ positive views of capitalism in just the past two years and a marked shift since 2010, when 68% viewed it positively.

Sen. Bernie Sanders competitively challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, and more recently, finished as the Democratic presidential nominee runner-up in 2020, losing to former Vice-President Joe Biden. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a candidate with similar policy views to Bernie Sanders and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, won the Democratic nomination in New York’s 14th Congressional District in 2018.

According to Stephanie Mudge, an associate professor of sociology at University of California, Davis, “I have students who are worried about paying the debt they’re accruing as they sit in class because their parents are still paying off theirs. Socialism says: ‘We have a whole generation of people who have debt before they even hit the labor market — let’s cancel that.’ I imagine that feels like a sensible, clear, and reasonable response to a pretty obvious problem for a lot of young people.”

As a member of Gen Z myself, I believe every year more of America’s youth is moving towards a positive view of socialism. It definitely has become less stigmatized and more are open to learning about it with no judgement. Previously, the expectation was to immediately dismiss the word “socialism/socialist” away with the bias that has been ingrained into us by our parents and teachers.

Gen Z has seen the economic fallout of the previous generation, Millennials, and have heard countless criticism about how “Millennials are ruining everything.” With Millennials settling down and aging up, Gen Z is up next on the plate. Gen Z is the next generation subject to criticism from the Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials. Our generation has seen how rising college costs have begun to price out the lower and middle class of a postsecondary education.

Burgeoning student loan debt that you are unable to pay off in a lifetime, rising global temperatures yet no direct climate action being taken by the United States, wages remaining stagnant for the past 40 years even though Americans are more productive than ever. As the pandemic wears on, stark disparities in COVID-19 health outcomes have highlighted socioeconomic inequities between races and unequal access to healthcare. Recent deaths also reveal the major role that underlying health conditions such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes and asthma play in amplified suffering of black and brown communities.

This turns controversial topics such as Medicare For All and Universal Health Care into more viable options as Gen Z sees their parents suffer from a lack of health insurance due to unemployment.

Gen Z will remember the COVID-19 pandemic as one that opened up deep scars into America’s vast socioeconomic disparities and the lack of affordable accessible healthcare. This generation realizes the status quo simply doesn’t work anymore.

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “The fact is that everybody in this country lives on welfare. Suburbia was built with federally subsidized credit. And highways that take our white brothers out to the suburbs were built with federally subsidized money to the tune of 90 percent. Everybody is on welfare in this country.”