Youth Vote: Unemployment Does Not Rock
by Barbara_Donnelly_Lane
August 27, 2012 10:00 AM | 2695 views | 4 4 comments | 117 117 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
I am in graduate school again, getting a second masters degree at Georgia State University, on my way to a doctorate in history.  So while I work predominantly with older students, some even as old as me, I am often on a college campus where many a kid has rocked an Obama t-shirt.  After all, young people are notoriously idealistic, which means they gravitate towards liberalism. 

In fact, in 2008 President Obama convinced 66 percent of 18-29 year olds who actually voted to pull the lever for him.  The “Hope and Change” campaign was sleek and connected.  That ultra cool cat candidate had a cool name, cool poster, cool vision.  It seemed on university campuses, everyone liked Barrack.  A lot of professors still do.  President Obama does, after all, have a lot in common with them. 

But now I wonder about those students. 

On August 21, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics released a summary of employment trends among American youth.  This demographic is defined as men and women between 16 and 24 years of age.  The percentage of unemployed is calculated upon the number of these who are seeking a job and can’t find one.  Many of these young adults were eligible to vote in 2008, and now the wave of hope they rode then has crashed real change over a lot of their lives with not nice consequences. 

Consider, in July 2012, the average youth unemployment rate was 17.1 percent.

To break those numbers down further, a higher percentage of young men today are unemployed than a percentage of young women.  White youth registered a 14.9 percent unemployment rate; Asians were at 14.4 percent, and Hispanics reached 18.5 percent.  Black youth suffer the most under a 28.6 percent unemployment rate, which is by any definition crushing.  Remember, the highest average unemployment figure during the Great Depression was 24.9 percent in 1933.   

So it is no wonder NPR recently reported the youth vote feels less energized in 2012.  Who feels energized when living in their parents’ basement?  

As we kick around debates about how to preserve retirement entitlements, it’s also useful to remember a 2010 CNN poll found seventy percent of people under the age of fifty do not even believe Social Security will be around by the time they retire, so it’s not a youth issue. 

Medicare is also not a sure thing, and while Obamacare has allowed kids to stay dependent on their parents longer, it looks to them as a “healthy group” to pay more premiums rather than capitalize upon their youth and save money.

I haven’t even mentioned the burden of that monster called the national debt.   (Since our current youth can’t find jobs, maybe their children will pay it?)

 So President Obama has talked a lot lately about lowering tuition costs, forgiving student loans, and adding Pell Grants.  But these are great examples of pandering to the college set he thinks might actually get registered and show up to vote for him in November.  They don’t address the real problem of today’s youth, which is unemployment.    

After all, I remember when I was a young undergraduate.  I wasn’t eligible for a Pell Grant, but I consistently worked two jobs to pay for my BA, as my middle class parents simply couldn’t afford to help a lot with school. 

If I was an undergraduate in the same circumstance today, I would still not be eligible for a Pell Grant.   Would I be able to find even one of those two jobs I depended upon to pay my tuition?  And if I could get a lot of President Obama’s student loans instead, how would I pay those loans back after graduation with no job market?  

The truth of the matter is that President Obama’s economy has been a disaster for young men and women.  

Keep in mind, with a kid of my own in college, and as a graduate student still paying ever-increasing tuition costs, I do understand why President Obama’s efforts to stop short-term hikes in student loans and to tout student loan forgiveness programs, gets the youth vote’s attention.  I also understand that young voters tend to trend more to the left on social issues than their stodgy, old parents. 

But this time around, young men and women must consider more than just the poster-sized picture of politics that might fit into a dorm room. 

In 2012, whose policies will get companies hiring again?  How will a president kick-start the financial engine that will get unemployed youth out of their parents’ basement and into careers that promise independence?  Whose vision is best suited to tackle current problems of finance?

If we’re going by records—and the real unemployment numbers he has not fixed—I think President Obama has already had—and missed—his chance to make a difference. 

I mean, at this point, wouldn’t getting a job be the coolest change? 

Comments-icon Post a Comment
B D Lane
September 19, 2012
Mr. Palmer,

I think that we could have a very long conversation about the foundation of conservative beliefs which are predicated on the idea that people predominantly act in their own self-interest. However, they also find dignity in labor and freedom through property.

I have taught school--and intend to teach school again--to some of the children you have described, and while I recognized some of their myriad challenges, my goal was always to empower these students, not to disable them with even well-intentioned paternalism. I cared--and continue to care--a great deal for all kids and want them to have bright futures.

However, your point is an interesting one. Liberals don't have faith in human ability to overcome obstacles? You are right. That is not idealistic. :) But I counter no conservative would tell you that we can achieve a society that looks anything like a utopia just because we are young and want to change the world. This is a common feeling among dew-eyed youngsters who have not been a part of the political process long enough to become cynical. (I, btw, was never dew-eyed.)

Anyway, I will write at some point about how classic liberalism and conservatism view humanity in different ways, and I am very happy to count you as an introspective reader, regardless of your political orientation. Thank you for reading and commenting on my work.
Jason Palmer
September 18, 2012
"After all, young people are notoriously idealistic, which means they gravitate towards liberalism."

I completely disagree that liberal politics are more idealistic than conservative politics.

After all, isn't the entire economic philosophy of conservatives based on a theory that money for the wealthy job creators will somehow trickle down to the poor (instead of making its way to tax-sheltered accounts overseas)?

And isn't it conservatives who believe that anyone is capable of just "pulling themselves up by their boot straps"? Is this not the epitome of idealism. Reality says that there are serious obstacles for many people in this country, some of them insurmountable. To suggest a minority male who grew up in an poor urban environment, (with sub-par schools, no father or male role model to speak of, a working mother who could not properly supervise her child, less than adequate nutrition, etc. etc. etc.) simply pull himself out of his situation is wishful thinking (i.e. idealistic) at its best.

There are certainly idealistic tendencies on the left, such as wishfully hoping that people will not take advantage of welfare/medicare programs--but the practicality of providing food, shelter, and medical services for the less fortunate is anything but idealistic.

If you are on your way to a doctorate, and therefore entrenched in liberal academia, it is only a matter of time before you are enlightened;)
B D Lane
September 04, 2012
English Teacher,

Fair enough on the subjunctive mood. I really appreciate your pointing this out to me. I wish I was... I wish I were... Wouldn't it be nice to be perfect? :) (Really. I love grammar. Thank you.)

That said, I wasn't trying to prove that President Obama caused high youth unemployment rates, but it's pretty clear he hasn't improved the problem either. On this, the numbers speak for themselves. Unemployment numbers for that demographic have gone up in the years "hope and change" has resided in the White House. And they've stayed up.

It seems to me, no matter how you frame it, that's a problem for young voters.

Thanks again for reading and commenting on the piece.
English Teacher
August 28, 2012

The sentence should read, "if I WERE an undergraduate...." Review your subjunctive mood and then cause and effect for essay writing. Your point has facts, but no true cause and effect. c on this one
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