Climate change, student loans top issues for young voters

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Addressing climate change is among the most important issues that three young voters in the southwest suburbs are focused on headed into the November election.

Yelena St. Clair, 19, a student at Moraine Valley Community College, said the upcoming election will be her time voting and the most important issue to her is the environment and agriculture.

St. Clair said she recently researched what positions U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Republican candidate Kathy Salvi have taken on the 2023 Farm Bill, a bill that is updated every five years to address farm livelihoods, how food is grown and what food is grown.

While reading about what each candidate said, St. Clair said she felt torn because Duckworth drew on her previous voting record on the bill but Salvi expressed a willingness to work with farmers and agricultural experts.

“That’s something that I am torn about, because I do want someone that will protect the environment, that will protect our agricultural sector and make sure that it is sustainable … but I also appreciate a willingness to listen to the actual people in those sectors rather than just being a politician about it and doing what you think is best,” St. Clair said.

Chloe Shapkauski, 17, a senior at Tinley Park High School, said she’s looking for candidates who want to protect the environment and “thinking about the future, just bringing it up, putting the idea in our heads.”

Shapkauski, who is a first-time voter, said she is looking for candidates who support conserving water within the U.S. and around the world. Ultimately, she said she’d support candidates who push for any regulations or goals, like to make an improvement of any kind by 2030.

“In 2030, they’re going to be middle aged or they’re going to be older and I’m still going to be looking to settle down in this world,” Shapkauski said.

Wiktoria Barnas, 19, a student at Moraine Valley Community College, said she would like to see stronger legislation restricting companies and corporations from negatively affecting climate change. She’d also like candidates to support the Green New Deal with a plan to tackle climate change.

Chloe Shapkauski, 17, who goes to Tinley Park High School, said she's focused on health care, climate change and financial aid.

St. Clair, of Alsip, said another issue important to her is election fraud, and she’s specifically researching what candidates have said about the 2020 election.

Former President Donald Trump claimed that the 2020 election was fraudulent, which the U.S. Department of Justice found to be false. While Americans should pay attention to elections and ask questions, lying about election fraud polarizes the nation and damages democracy, St. Clair said.

“Having candidates that could continue to push distrust into the American political system, especially on a local level, will be really harmful for future elections,” she said.

The final issue St. Clair is focused on is Amendment One, known as the Workers’ Rights Amendment, that would add the right to organize and collectively bargain to the Illinois Constitution.

Some of her classmates and friends are planning to work in a trade field, so St. Clair said being able to unionize is an issue that will affect their futures.

“America is its workers, and to think that certain workers still in the 21st Century can’t unionize is a shocking thought,” St. Clair said.

Wiktoria Barnas, 19, a student at Moraine Valley Community College, said the major issues to her are climate change, student debt and the Supreme Court.

Shapkauski, of Tinley Park, said she’s looking for candidates who support changing America’s health care system and decreasing its cost for surgeries, general care and prescriptions.

“Being healthy and living is a right, and it shouldn’t be dampened by high prices or even inflation. The government should help with that,” Shapkauski said.

Finally, Shapkauski said she would support a candidate who wants to improve the student loan application process, because the application asks for sources of income but doesn’t take into account other debts, such as mortgages.

“I think they should start accounting for that, like trying to give out aid or grants,” Shapkauski said.

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Barnas, of Worth, also said addressing student debt and student loan forgiveness is important. She said she’d like to see a permanent student loan forgiveness plan based on household income levels. Then, she’d like to see legislation to address the interest rate on student loans “starting with more of the people who need help the most,” Barnas said.

Finally, Barnas said she’s researching Supreme Court justice appointments and how members of Congress voted for recent justices.

Barnas said she does align more with the Democratic Party on the majority of issues, especially social issues. But, she said she doesn’t fully identify as a Democrat because she tends to agree with Republicans when it comes to economic and financial issues.

When it comes to connecting with younger voters, St. Clair said instead of focusing so much on social media it would be more helpful to send the candidate or a candidate representative to talk directly to the young voters.

Shapkauski agreed, saying she’d rather see political advertisements about what a candidate plans to do in office, not his or her resume.

Barnas said talking directly to young voters, even going door to door, would be a more beneficial way of connecting.

“Having that personal connection sometimes just can make all the difference,” Barnas said.

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