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Gen Z About to Change the Face of the US

FILE - Students arrive for the first day of school at Stuyvesant High School in New York, Sept. 9, 2015.

One in a series on Generation Z.

Generation Z, America’s youngest generation, is well on course to eclipse older generations in size and social impact.

Spanning the years 1997 and 2012, Gen Zers are the first generation to be born into digital technology, for one. They also have unique mental health issues, are more diverse than previous generations and have left-leaning political beliefs, according to various reports by Pew Research Center.

Unlike older generations, who either grew up without or came into adulthood during the rise of social media, smartphones and unfettered accessibility of information, Gen Z was born into new technology and has been defined by it more than any other.

“What is unique for Generation Z is that all of the above have been part of their lives from the start,” wrote Michael Dimock, president of the Pew Research Center, in an article about defining generations.

“The iPhone launched in 2007, when the oldest Gen Zers were 10. By the time they were in their teens, the primary means by which young Americans connected with the web was through mobile devices, Wi-Fi and high-bandwidth cellular service,” Dimock wrote. “Social media, constant connectivity and on-demand entertainment and communication are innovations (the generation of) millennials adapted to as they came of age.”

Who is Generation Z?
Who is Generation Z?

Diversity is another pillar of Gen Z, it is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in history, with 48% in 2018 being nonwhite, according to Pew. This demographic shift might signify societal and political changes, skewing toward liberal in the coming decades, as polling has shown about millennials.

Another aspect that distinguishes Gen Z from others is mental health. Depression and suicide rates for youth continue to rise, hitting its highest peak since World War II in 2017, according to annual research published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

Factors contributing to increased depression and suicide rates for Gen Z include social media use, issues that play negatively in the news such as climate change, immigration and mass shootings, and a greater willingness of families and officials to acknowledge suicide as a cause of death, according to Pew.

There are 61 million Gen Zers in the U.S., and they are projected to be about 10% of the voting population in 2020, according to Pew. Add that to 73 million millennials — the generation before Gen Zers, born between 1981 and 1996 — and together, they are projected to make up 37% of the American electorate in 2020.

By comparison, baby boomers — Gen Zers' parents and grandparents, born before 1964 — will make up 28% of the voting population in 2020, according to Pew.

Gen Zers are seen as predominantly liberal Democrat, typical of the young in previous generations. But unlike earlier generations, self-identified Gen Z Republicans skew more closely to center or left than earlier generations of young Republicans, according to Pew.

“It's traditionally been the case that generations get more conservative as they get older. But Gen Z is so different that even if they do become a little bit more conservative than they are, they're going to probably change our politics and how we will act as a society,” William Frey, senior fellow and demographer at the Brookings Institution, said.

Among Gen Z Republicans, 38% say they believe climate change is caused by human activity, compared with less than one-third of millennial Republicans, Pew reported. Gen Z aligns more closely to millennials on climate change, immigration and diversity. A majority, 62%, say diversity is an important consideration in politics, as opposed to 52% of Gen Xers and 48% of baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964.

For example, 52% of Gen Z Republicans say they think the government should be doing more to solve problems, compared with 38% of their millennial counterparts, 29% of Gen Xers, 23% of Republican baby boomers and only 12% of Republicans in the silent generation, born between 1925 and 1945, according to the Pew data.

The eldest Gen Zers are now entering college and the workforce. With access to $44 billion in buying power, they have the power to change the world even more than their elders.