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Poll finds California youth optimistic about the future

on February 10, 2011

A newly released poll of 600 young Californians shows that kids today are as optimistic about their futures as ever. The poll, conducted by New America Media and published on Monday, found that 82 percent of respondents believe their lives will be better in 10 years than they are now, and 95 percent believe that if they work hard they will achieve their goals. At the same time, the 16- to 22-year-olds polled said it was taking them longer to complete their educational goals.

“Their optimism hasn’t diminished. That’s what I think is the most surprising finding,” said Nell Bernstein, an associate editor at New America Media. “But how are they going to get there when 40 percent are radically curtailing their educational plans?”

Thirty-three percent of those polled were from Northern California, although the polling firm, Bendixan & Amandi International, didn’t report which cities the youth were from. But students at Oakland Technical High School had plenty to say about the poll’s findings.

At 8:30 a.m. Monday morning the first period bell rang in Patrick Friedman’s second floor classroom. The 30 desks were already mostly full with the 15- and 16-year-olds there for Friedman’s sophomore history class.

“I would say some of the poll’s [results] do represent my views and some don’t,” Julio Amaya, 15, wrote on the handout given to the students. Amaya said he thought he probably would have answered differently than the majority on most of the questions. Other students thought the poll’s results almost exactly mirrored what they would have told a pollster had they been called.

“For the most part I think I would be in the majority because those answers are really accurate,” Robert Paige, 16, wrote. “What stood out to me was the question about ‘What causes the most stress.’ Most of the people that [answered] ‘money’ were 18 to 22, but I think 16- and 17-year-olds have money problems also. I do.”

The poll didn’t break up the findings by age, but Paige was not the only student who mentioned the finding that poll respondents saw money as one of the most stress-causing elements of their lives. Another student, who declined to give a name, wrote, “A lot of students are worried about money a lot. I thought it was just me in that situation.”

Other students were more interested in the way the poll was conducted. Many thought calling cell phones was a decent way to get in touch with young people, but they also suggested Facebook and visiting schools.

“It doesn’t seem like cell phones would be best because most youth wouldn’t even bother to answer polls over the phone,” Cynthia Mok, 16, wrote. “Some way on the Internet would be better in my opinion.”

When asked if they planned to graduate from college, all but one student in Friedman’s morning history class raised his or her hand, mirroring the optimism of the poll respondents. Their concerns about money may indicate  they face an upward battle. But Bernstein, of New America Media, said that wasn’t naiveté.

“Are they naïve? No, I think they’re determined,” Bernstein said. “That doesn’t mean that they may grow up in an environment that lets them down.”

This article has been corrected to reflect the following: the second morning bell at Tech, which rings a few minutes before first period starts, sounds at 8:30 a.m.. Oakland North regrets the error.

Image: This graphic was created from the text of the executive summary of the New America Media youth opinion poll with the help of


  1. tech student on February 10, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    Bells don’t ring at Tech at 8:36. We have one bell ring at 8:23, and another at 8:30 when the school day starts.

    • Lillian R. Mongeau on February 11, 2011 at 8:15 am

      Thanks tech student. I have made the correction.

  2. Neils on February 14, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    It would be impossible for young people to exceed the living standards of their parents, if as Mr. Bernstein asserts they are curtailing their educational plans.

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