Every generation faces new challenges. Our nation’s founders fought a revolutionary war and then drafted a constitution that would serve not just for their time, but for all time. In the centuries since, the Civil War, women’s suffrage, the Great Depression, two world wars, the civil rights movement, 9/11, and other important moments have presented opportunities for a new generation of Americans to step forward, choose hope over fear, and do their part to create a more perfect union.
But trying times bring more than change; they bring experience, knowledge, and wisdom. Abigail Adams—whose views on freedom and gender equality were decades ahead of her time—made this point in a letter to her son, John Quincy Adams, who would follow in his father’s footsteps to become the sixth president of the United States. “The habits of a vigorous mind,” she wrote, “are borne in contending with difficulties.” This insight mirrors the vision of Pew’s founders, who believed that in taking on big challenges—and doing so with evidence-based research, humility, and a commitment to public service—we not only learn, evolve, and succeed; we gain new tools for solving old problems.
In this issue of Trust, our cover story examines the next generation of problem solvers and how they earned their name: Generation Z.
The Pew Research Center settled on the name after analyzing online data indicating that Generation Z—which began springing up in popular culture to describe those born after 1996—was far outpacing iGeneration and other potential names that were being searched for on Google. That measurement is now possible because of search engine technology that was born along with Generation Z—the initial Google algorithm was created in 1996—and came into its own at the same time Gen Z was becoming the most tech-savvy generation ever: The iPhone debuted in 2007, when the oldest members of this cohort were 10.
It’s too soon to know what historic events will be a call to action for members of Generation Z, but they’re already developing the habits of a vigorous mind. They’re on their way to becoming the best-educated generation ever, pursuing college at a higher rate—59 percent in 2017—than any previous generation, with a high school dropout rate significantly lower than similarly aged Millennials. Generation Z is also the most racially diverse in U.S. history: 48 percent of those born between 1997 and 2012 are either a racial or ethnic minority. And it’s a diversity they embrace: 62 percent of Gen Zers say increased diversity is a good thing for society.
Not all challenges rise to the level of drafting a constitution for a new nation or fighting for civil rights, but Americans of every generation face economic and social problems that can make their daily lives difficult. For example, today many of our fellow citizens face financial hardship, and sometimes turn to payday loans simply to cover basic expenses such as rent, groceries, and utilities. The state with one of the highest price tags for these loans has been Ohio, where a borrower would typically pay close to 600 percent annual interest to borrow $300 for five months.
In this issue, you’ll learn how the depth of the problem—and the damage it was doing to the finances of Ohio families—led the governor and lawmakers to pass the bipartisan Fairness in Lending Act. It took effect in April and is already being viewed by lawmakers in other states as a model. Now, lenders in Ohio can charge up to 28 percent annual interest and a maximum monthly fee of 10 percent of the loan amount capped at $30. This means that interest and fees on a $400, three-month loan will cost, at most, $109, while loans will still be widely available. Before the law was passed, the same credit cost more than three times that amount. Borrowers get at least 90 days to repay unless monthly payments are limited to 6 percent of the borrower’s gross monthly income. It’s payday loan reform that’s fair to both lenders and consumers, and demonstrates that financial obstacles can yield innovative policies when lawmakers use rigorous evidence and work together.
Although Trust relies on deeply reported and well- written stories to inform our readers, sometimes pictures can fulfill that mission more powerfully than words. That’s why occasionally we publish a photo essay to illustrate a difficult problem that demands a vigorous solution. In this issue, we feature photographs from a village in Senegal where local fishermen are being hurt by large international fishing fleets subsidized by foreign governments. Pew is working to end these subsidies as part of a larger initiative to end illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and restore the health of our oceans.
In the same way that our nation’s earliest activists turned hardship into hope and a thriving democracy, this issue’s stories and photo essay show that today’s difficulties can serve as an incentive for innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, and positive change that benefits us all.