MPR News/Star Tribune poll: Young residents worry about health care and the climate

Published 7:01 am Friday, February 28, 2020

By Cody Nelson

Ashli Martinez thought she was making the correct, practical decision by going to National American University to study medical assisting.

The 31-year-old St. Paul woman said people advised her that the medical field would always have jobs, so she listened and got a degree in 2012. Many others apparently got the same message.

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“The medical assistants that graduated with me, there [were] like 400 of us,” she said.

Martinez has a job now as a caretaker at an assisted living facility, but she said it’s still difficult to make ends meet for her, her husband and two kids — despite both parents having jobs.

“I work with former generations. It seems like the world just kind of isn’t great anymore,” Martinez said. “As far as the future goes … I don’t have high hopes because there’s just a lot harder than it was for former generations, at least from what I’ve heard.”

An MPR News/Star Tribune Minnesota Poll shows that 45 percent of Minnesotans aged 18 to 34 don’t think their generation is better off than their parents. Forty-two percent of young voters surveyed believed they were better off than their parents’ generation and 13 percent were unsure.

The poll interviewed by telephone, primarily cellphone, 500 randomly selected registered Minnesota voters between age 18 and 34. The poll has a plus or minus 4.5 percentage point margin of error.

Health care was a primary issue among the young voters surveyed — 52 percent said people like them don’t have access to quality, affordable health care.

Martinez said she doesn’t get health insurance through her job because she works part time to take care of her children. She said even the most basic health plans for her and the kids are unaffordable.

“I have no problem paying for health insurance if I can get what I need in a price that isn’t going to cost me as much as my rent,” she said.

Martinez said she leans Democratic, as do most of the young voters surveyed. Forty-two percent said they were DFLers or Democrats, while 33 percent identified as independent or other.

A quarter said they were Republicans. One of them was Dalton Baker, a 24-year-old farmer from Hewitt. He said he will support President Trump in November and that inflation is his major issue. Wages haven’t kept pace with expenses, he said.

“If you go with what it costs to buy a gallon of milk or to buy a house or to buy a gallon of gas when they were growing up compared to what it is now,” he said, “it’s not even close.”

Baker also said he believes his generation has access to the health care it needs.

“You can get whatever health care you want, it just costs a little bit more to get what you want,” he said.

However, for some young Minnesotans, high health insurance costs mean they forgo having insurance.

Minnesotans aged 18 to 34 had the highest rates of uninsurance among any age group, according to 2017 Health Department data, with 10.9 percent living without health insurance.

William Lidenberg, 31 of Eden Prairie, said he has insurance through his job doing tech support at a school district, but he’s unsatisfied with his options.

“Through my employer, there’s one or two different plans to pick and there’s a rather high deductible,” he said. “If I do have to go to the ER or something, I’m looking at a rather large bill, which can be very problematic for someone who’s living paycheck to paycheck.”

Another issue burdening young voters is climate change — 60 percent said it poses a significant threat to their community.

“Climate change is looming and it doesn’t really seem like we’re doing much to address that,” Lindenberg said.

However, 75 percent of young voters share one thing in common: They’re optimistic about their future.

Michaela Sperr, 26, is a retirement education specialist living in Eden Prairie. Despite her generation’s problems with health care and finding good jobs, she said, she believes there’s reason to be positive about the future.

“I am optimistic in the sense that I think we’re talking about issues and people are demanding integrity and I think that’s going to have a really cool ripple effect,” Sperr said. “But I understand in the meantime, there’s a lot of hurt and I don’t want to diminish what people are struggling with either.”