Conservative National Debt Argument Not Effective with Youth

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Brandon Griefe at U.S. News and World Report wrote a piece yesterday arguing that the Republicans have an opportunity to make amends with young, Millennial voters given the “genuine fear” created by Democratic spending.

With such a large and active base of young supporters it would appear Democrats have their Republican opponents nearing checkmate. But a closer look at the chessboard reveals neither party is in good strategic position to topple the other’s king.

The Republicans’ problem has been their inability to connect with youth and minorities. Only recently have they begun to deemphasize the socially conservative aspects of their platform that have polarized voters since the culture wars of the 1960s. A recent Pew Research poll found that young adults are “clearly more accepting than older Americans of homosexuality, more inclined to see evolution as the best explanation of human life and…are much less likely to affiliate with any religious tradition.” These and other social issues are not major concerns of young adults, a fact that is slowly being realized as Republicans seek to broaden their voting base.

But Democrats’ recent legislative priorities show they’ve also done a poor job at setting the board up for success. Enormous debt and deficit spending to fund a variety of new programs has created a dire fiscal future that is creating genuine fear among young adults. Then-Sen. Barack Obama said it best in 2006:

Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means ‘the buck stops here.’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership.

The rhetoric of 2006 has not translated into reality come 2010. The failure of leadership now continues under his watch with trillions in new debt obligations. Young adults will not be able to ignore the red ink that fills the nation’s ledger forever. Unless Democrats act quickly to reverse the growth of the government’s deficit they will poison the well of Millennial support that carried them to historic victories in 2008.

Griefe’s analysis is faulty and disingenuous for three reasons.

1.) I don’t believe I saw anything from Griefe or anyone else about deficit spending when George W. Bush was in the White House. When Bush entered the Oval Office, Bill Clinton handed his administration a surplus. When he left, we were trillions of dollars in debt. Two major tax cuts and two wars did quite a bit of damage:

Obama’s stimulus package accounted for only .07/$1.00 of the national debt when he signed it into law. Nearly 90 percent of the debt was created under George W. Bush.

To clean up the mess Bush left, Obama has to spend more.

2.) The message about the national debt does not carry any water with Millennials, especially since they are encountering the worst youth unemployment rate since World War II. Our friend Karlo tackled this conservative talking point last year, aptly comparing someone climbing a hill to one’s life-long relationship with government.

Imagine for a moment that you are trying to traverse a hill. The hill represents how much taxes you expect to pay over your lifetime. One end of the hill is the start (the beginning of your life), the top of the hill is middle-age, and the other end of the hill is, well, six-feet-under. At both ends of the hill, you pay relatively little in taxes, and the top of the hill is when you pay the most in taxes. This is what tax-paying looks like throughout the course of one’s life. For some generations, traversing this hill was made easier (but not faster), because the government helped invest in the well-being of the tax-payer very early on in life.

This is not the case with Millennials. The rising cost (PDF) of college and beyond has not resulted in a proportionate increase in services or resources. When you place this fact of rising costs into the context of rising college attendance, the effect is magnified. The share of young people that have attended college has increased 21 percentage points from the 1970s to the present (PDF, pg. 5). What’s more is the fact young people with post-graduate degrees on are on the rise, too. What all this amounts to is a more difficult (but not slower) journey over the hill. It’s almost as if Millennials have to carry a heavy backpack (read: student debt) and still keep pace with everyone else. Now add to that the fact that the end of the hill for Millennials is much farther away than it is for previous generations due to longer life expectancy.

In addition to this, Millennials themselves tell National Journal that they think Obama’s spending has been a good thing.

A plurality of Millennials say they believe that the president’s agenda will increase rather than diminish opportunities for their generation (41 percent to 27 percent). More respondents say that his policies averted an even worse economic crisis (44 percent) than believe that Obama ran up the national debt without doing much good (36 percent). By 46 percent to 31 percent, they also say that the comprehensive health care reform bill Obama recently signed into law is a good thing for the country. Just one-fourth believe that the country is worse off because of the president’s policies; the rest feel that his efforts have significantly improved conditions (16 percent) or are beginning to move the nation in the right direction, even if they haven’t yet produced major gains (43 percent).

Given the toxic economy the Bush policies gave Millennials as they have come of age, making the figurative hill even steeper, the government must invest in the youngest generation to ensure they have a chance of getting over the top, and thankfully, it is.

3.) Griefe comically cites a list of GOPers including Rand Paul and Bob McDonnell as smartly handling social issues in order to keep the focus on the fiscal matters at hand.

This is pretty simple.

Rand Paul doesn’t think the 1964 Civil Rights Act should have passed.

Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia issues a proclamation for Confederate History Month in the commonwealth, failing to mention trafficking of human beings and the consequential brutal decades of Jim Crow.

I’m not sure whether Griefe had a brain lapse here or what. Griefe is right that if the GOP can’t get social issues right, they won’t have any shot at Millennials period. Justin Miller at The Atlantic notes this, describing Millennials as the generation least tolerant of racism. The list of Republicans Griefe provides, though, is laughable. Their clumsy navigation of social issues has provided Democrats with several opportunities to beat back any Republican momentum.

The generational theft argument sounds good, but it doesn’t play with young people. It plays even less with Millennials when it’s shrouded in social issues.

Nice effort. Back to the drawing board.

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More Youth Staying Home with Parents

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Kristi Eaton at Campus Progress wrote a piece this week discussing a Future of Children study finding an increased rate of young people staying at home with their parents.

Today’s typical 22-year-old is living at home longer, is more financially insecure, and is making lower wages than previous generations. These factors contribute to a delay in the start of “adulthood,” says Richard Settersten, a professor of human development and family sciences at Oregon State University and co-author of the study. The study [PDF] notes that leaving home, finding a job, and becoming financially independent was, for a long time, the determination that made someone an adult.

[…]

The economic opportunities for the Baby Boomer generation, born between 1946 and 1964, were vast. Settersten notes that the current economic recession is making tasks that were once associated with the start of adulthood more difficult; now young adults are living with their parents longer or returning home later. In fact, Millennials are similar to the youth of the G.I. Generation (born 1901-1924) because they are slow to leave home and start families. For today’s young adult, the recession is largely blamed for the delaying of adulthood. In fact, half of Millennials still rely on financial support from their family, while a third of all 18 to 29 year-olds receive help from parents or other family members, according to the Pew Research Center.

Eaton concludes her piece by correctly linking this phenomenon with its root cause: a lack of jobs.

Panetta Institute Poll: College Students Continue Support of Obama, Same-Sex Marriage, and a Strong Government

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The Panetta Institute of Public Policy, located at California State University – Monterey Bay, has sponsored an annual survey of U.S. college students since 2001.

This year’s survey results revealed that students continue to be preoccupied with economic worries, though they bear much more positive attitudes this year than they have in the past. The executive summary is below:

  • College students continue to express confidence in Barack Obama, and rate his performance much more highly than the country as a whole: 66% approve of his job performance, compared with 48% of the public in a contemporaneous survey. However, Obama’s approval rating has declined 9 points since his 2009 “honeymoon” period.
  • While two-thirds (66%) believe that Barack Obama understands college students’ needs, just 21% say the same of Sarah Palin.
  • College students continue to lean toward the Democrats as they consider the 2010 off-year elections, but there are clear warning signs for Democrats in this poll. Students are paying far less attention to this election than they were the historic 2008 presidential race (44% now, 82% in 2008) raising questions about college students’ likely turnout in November. Moreover, Democrats’ 12-point margin in the generic congressional ballot is much smaller than the 26-point lead they enjoyed at the same point in the 2006 cycle, and only slightly better than in 2002 (seven points) when Republicans elected congressional majorities.
  • Students continue to view the economy as weak (83% say it is not so good or poor), and although they are not yet in the workforce, fully 40% say they have been personally affected a great deal or quite a bit by the economic downturn.
  • Students’ confidence in their ability to find an acceptable job after graduation, which declined in 2009, remains low: 36% of college students, including 45% of seniors, are just somewhat or not confident that they will find an acceptable job. The 64% expressing confidence is the lowest level the survey has ever recorded.
  • Interest in a government career continues to rise among college students, with 42% now very or fairly interested!the highest mark we have ever recorded. While the recession may have contributed to this rise, there has been a fairly steady increase in this measure over the past nine years.
  • The survey reveals a startling gender gap when it comes to interest in an eventual run for office, with men being twice as interested in running for federal office than women (men 36%, women 18%), and also more interested in pursuing local or state office (men 43%, women 28%).
  • College students’ support for same-sex marriage continues to grow, now reaching 65%, compared with just 52% in 2004.
  • Students support a much more active government than the public as a whole, and they rate government’s performance much more highly. By 51% to 30%, they say government should do more to solve problems, while among the public overall, 43% say government should do more and 48% believe the government is doing too many things.

Students are ostensibly still liberal in their political views according to this survey, but their enthusiasm for participating in the 2010 midterms and supporting the Democratic Party is waning, along with their approval of President Obama. Not waning at all is their concern regarding their ability to find jobs after college.

This poll provides more evidence that the issue of job creation should be paramount for Democrats if they wish to attract college students (and young people) by this November.

Youth Unemployment on Rise

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What else is new, right?

NPR covers the continued rise of unemployment for 16-19 year olds, especially among African-American teens.

On Friday, the Labor Department reported that the while the country gained 162,000 jobs in March, the overall unemployment rate remained unchanged at 9.7 percent. And it’s much tougher for teenagers; The jobless rate for those between ages 16 and 19 rose to 26.1 percent. For African-American teens, it’s even worse: That rate stands at 41.1 percent.

“They are competing with people who have experience, and they simply don’t have it,” says Deborah Shore, founder of Sasha Bruce Youthwork, a group that provides housing and workforce training to homeless kids in Washington, D.C. “It’s the worst unemployment for teens ever.”

The longer they go without work experience, the harder it will be for them to find jobs in the future, she says.

Unfortunately, the teen job market is one of the last indicators of a healthy economy, with many white youth finding jobs before the African-American demographic. Because of racial discrimination, a lack of resources, and fewer connections, African-American youth are one of the most disadvantaged groups of job seekers.

One way to assist these young people is by passing legislation with comprehensive youth programs and public works projects included.

There is at least one proposal before the House that would devote $8 billion to year-round youth training and employment. Other proposals in the Senate have been blocked, although congressional staffers supportive of such measures believe Congress may still pass funding for youth programs through an amendment to other, broader jobs bills.

However, as the article points out, summer vacation is quickly approaching. Will our representatives act in enough time?

It’s important to remember that while changing the way college students finance their education is important, there are less privileged youth out there who want to get to work but are devoid of opportunities. What are we doing to help them?

Mark Penn’s Opinion Is Irrelevant

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Mark Penn, the chief strategist for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, thought he might be able to get back into public political prognostication a year after his biggest professional failure. In a Politico piece, Penn predicts the reaction of Americans when unemployment hits ten percent, what he calls a “political tripwire.”

Unless some tough decisions are made soon, rising jobless figures will most likely hit what could be a public opinion and political tripwire: 10 percent unemployment.

If and when the country crosses that line, it will be the No. 1 news story for days, recent stock market gains could recede, and consumer confidence will fall. And whether or not the economic crisis is coming to an end, such a high unemployment level has the potential to undermine the hard-won confidence enjoyed by the Obama administration. The Republicans will quickly claim all we have is more debt and fewer jobs.

Let’s get something straight: unemployment will creep past ten percent. Even the Obama administration acknowledges this.

But let’s also examine Penn’s accuracy with previous predictions and success as a political consultant on the big stage. It’s not pretty.

1.) Penn’s strategy memo for Clinton, written on March 30, 2007, predicts the unelectability of Barack Obama due to his lack of American roots:

But he also called Obama “unelectable except perhaps against Attila the Hun,” and wrote, “I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values.” Penn proposed targeting Obama’s “lack of American roots.”

2.) Josh Marshall points out in a 2008 post that Penn, quite frankly, sucks at advising Democratic presidential campaigns.

But some knowledgeable campaign watchers have now confirmed me in my impression that virtually every Democratic primary campaign Penn has run going back to 2000 or earlier has lost — Checchi, Blanchard, Cuomo, Lieberman, Deutsch. The guy has an absolutely terrible record.

Oh yeah – he lost in 2008 too.

As we examine the success or failure of the stimulus going forward, there are many people more qualified than Mark Penn to accurately and truthfully discuss its impact.

Ohio’s Libraries Threatened

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“The library connects us with the insight and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.” — Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Last Friday afternoon, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland (D) announced his new budget proposal for the upcoming year. The proposal cuts approximately three billion dollars from the budget, a necessity due to the state’s current fiscal troubles. In doing so, he made a few observations:

[The budget] prioritizes extremely limited resources toward critical health and safety services to provide for the greatest number of vulnerable Ohioans during this difficult time.

And, perhaps most important, this framework positions Ohio for the job creation needed for near-term recovery and for long-term economic growth after the recovery. We have a shared responsibility to make the decisions necessary to maintain a balanced budget without crippling the state’s growth and economic progress. So my balanced budget framework calls for continued investments in a reformed system of education, which is the key to Ohio’s economic revival.

Our schools must provide a world-class education for every child and teach the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that businesses tell us they look for in the people they hire. Our system of education does not do this now, and delaying this is not an option.

[…]

…In order to balance the budget we must reduce services that Ohioans have needed and received in the past but the state can no longer continue to provide. But in reducing these services, we must minimize the impact on our most vulnerable, especially children, the elderly and disabled.

Second, we must continue to prioritize education for economic growth. The jobs of the future will go where world-class schools produce highly-trained, highly-skilled workers. Postponing education reform will only hold Ohio back.

This has been a difficult choice for me but I believe a necessary one. It is contrary to what I ever thought I would have to do. Still, after looking at an array of choices before me and the state legislature, I have concluded this is the best course of action to meet our balanced budget obligations.

Before we go any further, I want to make clear that I respect the grave status of Ohio’s fiscal health. Consequently, I acknowledge that Strickland’s had to make some tough decisions that are never going to be popular. I am puzzled and saddened, though, by one particular piece of Strickland’s budget proposal – the drastic cut in state library funding.

In order to get to his three billion in savings, Strickland has proposed that $112 million be cut from state library funds. While that sounds large, that’s the tip of the iceberg. State libraries were already bracing for a hit due to a decrease in state tax receipts thanks to the economic mess. By state law, libraries receive 2.2 percent of tax revenues, so if the state’s tax collections are plentiful, libraries do well in the budget; if they shrink, libraries’ funding decreases. Before Strickland announced his proposal, Ohio libraries were already expecting an eighteen percent cut (from the expected $464 million to $365 million). But as mentioned earlier, Strickland’s plan would take off an additional $112 million, leaving Ohio libraries with $253 million — a 45 percent decrease, and a fatal blow to libraries across the state.

l I’m puzzled at this decision to gut library funding mainly because of Strickland’s non-stop talk of improving the quality of education in Ohio since he campaigned for governor. In fact, one can see in the excerpt from his speech provided above that he continues to mention his desire to develop an educational system in Ohio that results in graduates getting quality jobs to participate in a strong economy. But how can one rely on a strong educational system to build a state’s economy when the laboratories of this educational system — the state’s libraries — are being slaughtered? A library is the best chance for a child to develop that spark — the love to learn — that leads to great accomplishments, providing our state and our country with so many bright minds. A comment made today on Governor Strickland’s Facebook crystallized the point: “Isn’t it ironic that our library proudly has hanging a poster of you, Governor Strickland, holding a book, promoting literacy. The proposed further cut to library funding is a travesty!” Wall messages like this one continue to pour in expressing disappointment, and it’s because of the mixed signals Strickland is sending to Ohioans — big talk of reforming Ohio education, while taking the money that solidifies this revitalization away from a crucial piece of the effort.

But it’s not just the confusion of mixed signals. What’s really depressing about this proposal is his failure to recognize libraries as a vital tool in communities battling the recession. A few months ago, I wrote of the importance libraries carry in our communities, especially during hard economic times:

Libraries offer those less fortunate in the community that free access to meeting rooms, technology, printing services, an audio/video rental program, and simply, a place to gather (if quietly). Libraries are also an essential part of that ideal rooted in the American dream, that one can pull him/herself up by their bootstraps, given strong support from the community. The values of life-long learning and independent education are represented in a community library. Furthermore, libraries offer us the information we need in making educated decisions about political candidates and issues.

Unfortunately we’re seeing funding for libraries cut all over the country, as lawmakers see it as easy way to get budgets back in check, because many libraries serve this role in an understated manner. In reality, though, libraries form a central role in our economic crisis. Money Magazine, in 2005, noted that nowhere else is someone going to enjoy free access to technology, important information using that technology, and “experts” to assist them in finding this information and sorting through it. Yet another example of an efficient use of resources.

Strickland’s big mistake here is to lay all of the burden on an institution that is prepared to do more to help those impacted by this rough economy than any other state-funded entity. Now, if the library portion of Strickland’s proposal is approved by the State House and Senate, the only hope many libraries will have to survive will lie with a library levy — not exactly the most popular thing on the ballot in these times. The reality is that many smaller libraries will be forced to close. While there will be jobs lost all across the state, perhaps the saddest thing will be the signal to our children. Do we really want our children to grow up knowing that, when it came down to hard decisions, the “village” raising them decided against investing in their future?

And perhaps the most unsettling question. Those already having lost their jobs – where do they go? Cutting funding for our libraries pulls the plug on their futures, as many of them rely on their community libraries to rebuild their futures. When libraries are needed the most in Ohio (as evidenced by soaring circulation numbers during recessions), their future is the darkest. It can’t just be me that doesn’t get that.

As progressives, we owe it to ourselves to claim what we believe to be the most important of our civic institutions. As young progressives, we have a responsibility to see to it that in times of turmoil, we increase investment in our youth instead of cutting and running. If we all have a concern for our future, as Mr. Sagan suggested above, we’ll be sure to fight for Ohio’s libraries, especially if you’re reading this from the Buckeye State.

Ted Strickland’s Facebook page

The Ohio Library Council

Change.org Launches Jobs for Change

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Change.org recently announced its new Jobs for Change initiative, linking those wishing to pursue careers in change-making with available positions in organizations serving the common good.

Over the past few months President Obama has inspired a renewed interest in public service, providing a historic opportunity to mobilize a new generation of Americans to address the major social and environmental problems we face.

Yet there are few resources connecting people interested in social change with careers in service, threatening to limit the potential impact of this new civic spirit. We aim to change that.

We are currently building the largest database of nonprofit, government, and social enterprise jobs on the web and have just hired a team of career advisors to provide daily advice and guidance to help people of all backgrounds find and develop a career in social change. We have also partnered with more than a dozen leading organizations that will give Jobs for Change reach to millions of people interested in deeper civic engagement.

While those observing the trend toward public sector jobs among youth usually focus on the success of programs like Teach for America and City Year, this initiative will fill a large hole enabling one-stop career shopping for youth already involved in creating positive change. Many more organizations will now be in the spotlight thanks to this tool, and as a result, the millennial mobilization will be strengthened.

What I especially like about this site is the extra stuff. Along with the job postings, Jobs for Change offers “Career Advisors,” who are assigned to various areas/aspects of the job search process, such as college students and AmeriCorps. In addition, young job-seekers are able to ask questions to their peers regarding change-making careers. Finally, content offering tips for young job-seekers is regularly published on the site.

A variety of organizations have teamed up with change.org to provide our progressive youth movement with an excellent resource. Kudos to everyone involved.

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