In an effort to reach out to the Millennial voting block, President Obama made his first stop Thursday on his three-day trip to the West Coast a visit to Cross Campus, a membership-based co-working space for startups in the Los Angeles area.
His message to the audience of youngish-looking entrepreneurs? The government has turned around the economy and here's why you, dear Millennials, should care.
Obama first chatted with founders in residence at the Santa Monica location, receiving brief elevator pitches from a few of the startups. Then he gave some brief remarks--using the opportunity to highlight recent positive economic numbers--and took questions from the audience in a town hall-style discussion.
The president acknowledged that Millennials graduated into the workforce at a terrible time for the economy. But his administration has helped turn things around since: He cited the creation of 10.3 million new jobs and the lowering of the unemployment rate to below 6 percent. "We've put more people back to work than in Japan, in Europe, and in every advanced economy combined." He admitted there's still more work to be done, particularly to close the gender and minority wage gap, strengthen the country's tech infrastructure, protect intellectual property, and make it easier for talented immigrants to come the U.S. for education and stay to work or build a company.
Here, he got in a jab at Republicans and the gridlock in Congress, saying that legislators are "spending too much time on the next election and not enough on the next generation."
But Obama said during the hour-long event, Millennials--a generation with entrepreneurship in its "DNA"--are well-positioned for success. "You're coming out of the recession as the best educated, most diverse, and most digitally fluent young adults in history," he said.
Audience members then asked the president questions on a number of issues, from encouraging more women to enter tech fields and his thoughts on infrastructure spending to making healthcare and manufacturing more high tech and efficient.
On fixing the gender imbalance in the science, technology, manufacturing, and engineering (or STEM) fields, he said part of the solution is figuring out if girls want to learn these subjects differently from the way boys do. "The classic tech nerd is an isolated person" sitting at a computer, he said. "That's the stereotype. It may be that girls want a more social environment."
On another topic of interest to tech entrepreneurs, net neutrality, he said he was "unequivocally" for it: "It's what has unleashed the power of the internet and we don't want to lose that or clog up the pipes," he said, noting that he's not for a tiered internet on which those who pay more get better service.
In terms of immigration reform and improving the situation for startups that rely on foreign engineers who come to the country on H1B visas, the president said he would "use all the executive authority I have to make the fixes I can," again citing Republican resistance that has stymied more comprehensive legislative reform.
At one point, entrepreneur Ariel Jalaly used the Q&A portion to pitch Obama on his company Sensay, which he described as a "marketplace for monetizing your mind." "Are you offering me a job?" the president asked. "The idea of still being able to dabble in the issues of the day while in sweatpants and a baseball cap sounds pretty attractive--but I'd have to check out your perks. Do you have sushi?" he joked.
Despite dismissing the stereotypes about Millennials earlier in the event ("Some cynics call you the 'lost generation,'" he noted), in the final few minutes of the event, Obama seemed to suggest that one stereotype is true: Young people aren't interested enough in politics. Government may operate in a clunky, bureaucratic, low-tech way, he said, but it's "vital."
"Even as you're doing all this neat, cool, interesting stuff, do pay attention to what's not always neat, cool, interesting--but what's necessary in Washington, D.C., and local communities."