The U.S. political scene is not one filled with young, fresh-minded politicians but rather veterans who have been playing the political game for decades. And the current political landscape is leaving many young Black voters underrepresented, their voices unheard in the U.S. gerontocracy.
A gerontocracy is a state, society, or group governed by old people and the leaders in the U.S. could be considered old.
President Joe Biden is 79 and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is 82 years old. The median age of the current roster of senators is 64.3 years, and in Congress, it’s 58.4 years. Not many millennials (people born between 1981 and 1996) are in sight and Gen Z (people born between 1997 and 2012) politicians are practically non-existent.
In the Congressional Black Caucus, about 40 percent of members are 70 or older. Nearly two-thirds of the group’s members are 60 or older, according to Business Insider. And once members are elected, they tend to try and stay in office instead of allowing new blood to enter. Of the 58 members of the Black Caucus, 19 have been in Congress for at least 15 years and 12 have been there for more than 20 years. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the delegate from Washington, D.C., and Maxine Waters are in their 31st year and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and four others are in their 29th year.
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Thirty-five, or 60% of the members are 60 or older. Those older than 70 account for 40 percent of the caucus. Five are in their 80s.
One of the draws of Barack Obama when he first ran for president was his younger age, which attracted younger voters like college students. Obama was 47 when he was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2009.
Because of this lack of generational representation, younger Black people fear their perspective is missing in a U.S. gerontocracy.
Meanwhile, in 2019, the median age of Black people in the U.S. was 32, compared with the overall median age in the U.S. of 38, according to Pew Research Center. About three in 10 Black Americans were under 20, while about one in 10 were 65 or older, pointing to the shorter life expectancy of Black people in the U.S.
In the Black community, it is often taught to look up to elders. But young Black voters are not connecting to the older Black politician– and they seem to be more and more impatient that their concerns are not addressed by the people who represent them.
“It’s a community where you defer to your elders without question,” Nicholas Gaffney, the director of the Center for African American Studies at the University of South Carolina Upstate, told Business Insider. “So I think that’s just a cultural norm within the Black family that shapes the Black experience and other aspects of life as well, including politics.”
Younger people fear their perspective is missing in that mix. They’re growing impatient.
“When you have a body that overwhelmingly skews old or overwhelmingly skews white, then you’re missing out on those experiences,” said Maxwell Alejandro Frost, who’s expected to become the first Gen Zer in Congress.
A majority of Black people surveyed in a Morning Consult/Insider poll — 66 percent — said they thought there should be age limits for members of Congress, found a Morning Consult/Insider poll . And, 75 percent said they supported term limits for lawmakers. That was about 9 percentage points lower than the percentage of adults overall who said they supported term limits for lawmakers (about 84 percent).
There has been some young Congressional Black Congress entries lately–Reps. Joe Neguse, Lauren Underwood, Ritchie Torres, Ilhan Omar, and Mondaire Jones are all in their 30s. Torres and Jones are the first out gay Black men in Congress.
“The gatekeeping is real,” Nadia Brown, of Georgetown, told Business Insider. And it’s not just “wait your turn,” she added — sometimes there’s nasty backlash and whisper campaigns that “prohibit people who haven’t played the game from getting in.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., speaks with a reporter on Capitol Hill, Feb. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) / Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York speaks before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, May 9, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) / House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill, March 31, 2022. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib) / Photo: President Joe Biden speaks at Business Roundtable meeting, March 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)