Millennials: What they want from the candidates

Story highlights

  • CNN Opinion asked 10 millennials to weigh in on how well 2016 presidential candidates reflect the priorities of their generation
  • They said the candidates had a long way to go to address concerns about jobs, education, immigration, inequality and more

(CNN)CNN asked millennial voters from a range of backgrounds to weigh in on whether, and how well, the 2016 presidential candidates are reflecting the priorities of their generation -- the largest and most diverse demographic cohort in American history -- as they make their case to voters. The opinions expressed are solely those of the authors.

Elizabeth Elizalde, 22, is a New York-based journalist and a former CNN en Español intern. Follow her on Twitter @EElizalde5.
Elizabeth Elizalde
I'm a 22-year-old Latina living in New York City, and as a recent college graduate, I know the struggle of making ends meet. My college expenses kept me up at night, especially the time I paid $120 for a book, $116 for my MetroCard and $840 for an extra class. I worked multiple jobs, but by the end of a semester, I would still be broke. It was worth it for my degree, but would I have had a better educational experience if money worries hadn't been so overwhelming?
    I want to see a change in college costs but have heard little on this so far. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders proposes a tuition-free community college and raising the minimum wage to $15. But I'm unsure if his plan would create jobs with better salaries for young people. Jobs are a big concern.
    Immigration reform is another issue that hits close to home. Born to an Ecuadorian mother and a Mexican father -- both American citizens -- I know how hard my parents fought to give me a better life. Some candidates like Donald Trump want to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants but don't consider the damage to our economy and taxpayers' pockets.
    So far? Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the youngest candidate and the son of Cuban immigrants, seems to identify with millennials like me because he knows what it means to live from "paycheck to paycheck." On this score, he gets it.
    As the presidential race heats up, the candidates remain focused on petty infighting. I want to hear less bickering and more about their policies. My generation and our children's future depend on their decisions.
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    Michael Tubbs, 25, is a Democratic council member for the city of Stockton, California. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldtubbs.
    Michael Tubbs
    In 2012, then 22, I decided to move back to Stockton, a city that had suffered back-to-back years of record homicides, had an unemployment rate of 20%, was home to some 30,000 children living in poverty and had just declared municipal bankruptcy. We need presidential candidates to talk about strategies to help cities such as mine across the country, which are struggling to reinvent themselves, and to usher in a new era of civic innovation.
    The presidential candidates have talked of urban violence, but not nearly enough about structural violence, defined by sociologist Johan Galtung as the "avoidable impairment of basic human needs." Every day in this country, children go to bed hungry and go to sleep listening to gunshots, and go to schools that don't provide them a quality education, and live in ZIP codes that often determine their destiny. This is what I want to hear about from the candidates. What will they do about this?
    These problems are not isolated: They routinely intersect to produce great inequalities such as the education achievement gap. As a child of a teenage mother and an incarcerated father, as a friend of many who have fallen into the cradle-to-prison pipeline, I am intimately familiar with the urgent need for solutions.
    If the recent unrest in cities throughout the nation has taught us anything, it is that we need to confront poverty and other "avoidable impairments of human needs" comprehensively. Our next president must have a plan: Only then will we expand opportunity and protect "liberty and justice for all."
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    Elizabeth Belsky, 23, is a writer from California with a degree in media studies. She currently sells wedding invitations in Brooklyn, New York, and tweets at @lizbelsky.
    Elizabeth Belsky
    I'm a class-informed voter, first and foremost. There's scarcely an area of domestic policy where my stances aren't based on how the candidate's politics will affect poor and working-class people. When you grow up in a trailer park, as I did, you see the realities of poverty, social assistance and benefits programs in a way that dry, distanced discussions about minimum wages and fast-food jobs don't provide. Empathy for the working class and life experiences outside of the 1% are what really make or break a candidate for me.
    I got into some pretty good universities, both public and private. The reason I eventually chose to attend Brooklyn College? It wasn't because it was one of my top choices -- I simply could not afford to enroll at any of the other schools I got into, even with scholarships, loans and financial aid -- and the City University of New York promised that more than 70% of its students graduated debt-free. Not me: I graduated with significant student loan debt, due to my status as an out-of-state student for most of my time at CUNY -- I wasn't eligible for in-state aid and had to take out loans to cover what I couldn't pay out of pocket, i.e., all of it.
    The cost of a college education in this country is, to put it lightly, absolutely bonkers.
    And finding a job in a field that you studied for in college is a huge challenge: I currently work at a job unrelated to my degree and have a hard time even getting interviews for jobs in my field.
    Other issues I want to hear from the candidates about? The right to affordable contraception and family planning. I can't, in good conscience, support a candidate whose reproductive justice policy doesn't address the needs of poor and working-class women.
    There's more, of course -- the fight for a livable minimum wage is another deciding issue for me -- but most importantly, what I care about is concern for the working class. Do any of the candidates actually care about voters who aren't millionaire potential campaign donors?
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    Wyly Gray, 33, is a writer, veterans advocate and founder of Soldier On Corps, a veteran service organization dedicated to preserving and sharing veterans stories. He lives in Bristow, Virginia.