Posted by: The Last Liberal Gwinnettian | July 6, 2009

The Plight of Young Americans

They say that the grass is always greener on the other side, and in most cases it’s true. Older generations long for their lost youth, while the younger generations look ahead to the future with great longing. However much my parents and grandparents might wish to be young again, being a young adult in today’s America is no joy ride.

Suze Orman disagrees:

If the economy kept running the way it was, you guys would have been broke for the rest of your life. Real estate was going up and up. You would never have qualified for real estate, and companies were shipping jobs offshore. So where were you going to get a job? The price of tuition was so high [that graduates] owed $150,000 in student loans. The price of milk and other prices were so off the charts. What were you people going to do? The stock market was at 14,000, so every time you put money into your 401(k), you bought less and less shares.

While it is true that the recession may have produced an increase in buying power, that is only helpful if you have…well, buying power. Most young Americans lack buying power of any sort, and therefore cannot hope to take advantage of this silver lining of the recession. Here’s why:

  1. The job market sucks. Unemployment recently hit a 26 year high, which means that if you didn’t already have a stable job going into the recession, you’re screwed. In other words, all of the students who graduated college this spring, whether with an undergraduate degree or a graduate degree, are now struggling to find jobs. Even industries that are supposed to be immune to the ups and downs of the economy are failing. For example, the state of Georgia is hiring a small fraction of the number of teachers that it normally hires each year. Newly certified teachers are applying for hourly jobs at Walmart just to pay the bills.
  2. Health care in this country is atrocious. A CNN story reports that young adults aged 19 to 29 are the largest group of uninsured people in the country. They are typically too old to remain on their parents’ insurance (if indeed their parents even have insurance) and yet too young to hold the types of jobs that offer strong benefits packages. This means that a 25 year old who catches bronchitis had better have a few hundred dollars on hand to visit a doctor and fill prescriptions. In the paycheck-to-paycheck world that many young adults live in, illness of any sort is a top fear.
  3. Student loan debt is stifling. As Orman correctly pointed out, graduates often owe five and six figures to various banks for student loans. I myself have been paying on one such loan for five years. After all the interest payments, I’ve managed to pay off about $200 of the principle in the time. I’m not alone. The $100-300 or more that most twenty-somethings shell out each month in loan payments COULD be saved, used to purchase health insurance, or spent (I keep hearing that spending money will help the economy, right?). Instead, it barely pays the interest on loans that were originally taken out in order to receive the education necessary to get a decent job – unfortunately, there aren’t even any jobs anymore.
  4. The credit market is still frozen. Just like everyone else in the country, young adults are having more and more difficulty accessing credit. In other words, if you’re 25 and looking to buy a car, you need stellar credit or lots of money. How many 25-year-olds do you know who fit those categories? Our purchasing power may be worth more dollar-for-dollar, but we don’t have any spare dollars and we can’t get credit.

If the Obama administration is going to live up to the hopes of all the 20-somethings that voted Barack Obama into office, it’s going to have to address the issues that we hold dear to our hearts. We are the next ruling generation, but we will not be able to accomplish the types of things that our forbearers have if we are left to sink or swim in one of the worst economies in history. Some ideas for our leaders:

  1. Fix Financial Aid: There are any number of ways that this could be done. One idea that has made the internet rounds is to forgive student loan debt. The argument is that cutting hundreds of dollars from the monthly budgets of millions of Americans will help boost consumer spending, thereby helping the economy. (If you support this idea, help further it by signing this petition!) Another idea is to eliminate the interest on federal student loans. Still others have suggested capping the payments of loan payments. Better yet, why not attack the root of the problem and simply make college affordable so that loans are unnecessary?
  2. Health Insurance for All: Nearly every other successful first world country has some form of universal healthcare. Why don’t we? Why are there roughly 40 million people in this country who have little or no access to affordable healthcare? Even those with private insurance aren’t all that well off. If you’ve ever attempted to deal with an HMO, you know that our system is broken.
  3. Create Jobs: I know, this is really a “duh” kind of suggestion. However, there are specific industries that the government has greater control over, and our leaders should use their influence to help boost those industries. A favorite of mine is education. As I pointed out, Georgia has essentially stopped hiring new teachers. That’s not because our schools are good enough to not need new teachers. It’s because the state increased class sizes. In other words, in an effort to balance the budget and save money, the state was forced to risk the quality of education of the youngest generation and cut the job opportunities of my generation. Someone please explain to me how this will help us in the long run. Creating extra funding for education and other government funded industries will help create the kinds of jobs that young adults need (complete with health care!) AND help society in general by providing better government services.
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Responses

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Great post.


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