As the 2012 election rolls into the heat of the primary season, many young people are still struggling to find work.
Millennial generation job seekers, aged 16 to 24, now find themselves trapped by unemployment rates that are twice the national average. Recent data from the Economic Policy Institute show unemployment for this demographic at 16 percent in February, down from its peak of 19.6 percent in the spring of 2010. Despite this modest downtick, youth unemployment remains higher than any point since 1983.
Hit hard in the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown, young people, especially those aged 16 to 24, have found it increasingly difficult to get ahead in these economic times. As these challenges play out in their daily lives, American youth are poised to play a significant role in deciding if President Obama will receive a second term.
For months, Obama campaign manager, Jim Messina, has stressed the importance of youth support and turnout for the President in 2012. “Young Americans are at the foundation of this campaign and are going to make the difference in putting us over 270 [electoral votes],” Messina said in a statement to ABC News. “In 2008 their older brothers and sisters started this movement, and this year the more than 8 million 18-21 year olds are going to complete it.”
Tallant Burley, an Obama supporter in 2008 and 22-year-old recent college graduate, says she has not yet decided whether she approves of Obama’s handling of the economy. “I don’t think he’s done enough in certain areas. I don’t think he’s been forceful enough in advocating his policies and pushing Congress,” she said.
After graduating from American University in 2010, Burley found part-time work as an executive assistant for Progressive Majority, a Political Action Committee devoted to electing progressive Democrats to Congress. Currently making $8.25 an hour with no health benefits, Burley is among millions of other underemployed recent college grads. “I definitely fear a pay cut, and honestly, I don’t feel secure in my job,” she said.
Two months ago, Burley moved in with her father, who had recently arrived in Washington from Colorado, where he was unemployed for 18 months. On living at home, Burley said, “It’s nice not to have to pay rent, but it’s kind of weird living with my dad.”
Burley’s story is far from unique. Nearly 5.9 million adults between the age of 25 and 34 live at home with their parents, according to the most recent Census data. The economy is the main culprit behind this phenomenon, with higher joblessness leading to fewer young people with the ability to support themselves. In January 2012, the Department of Labor reported that 61 percent of those 20 to 24 were employed.
Unemployment isn’t the only financial crisis facing American youth: Student loans are now beginning to take a major toll. Students are borrowing twice the amount of money for their education that they did only a decade ago, according to the College Board. And another recent study, by the Institute for College Access and Success, found that college seniors who took out loans owed an average of $25,250, which is 5 percent more than the class of 2009 owed.
Kelsie Reed, a 21-year-old college senior from upstate New York, can relate to these statistics after facing financial troubles of her own since the recession began four years ago. (It officially started in December 2007)
Following her freshman year at a private college in upstate New York, Reed moved back to her hometown to take a full-time position at an insurance agency and take classes part-time at a local community college. After working with the agency for two years and making an annual salary of close to $35,000, Reed transferred to SUNY Cortland, only miles from her home to become a full-time student.
She is without a job but has benefits through her mother’s employer. Still, Reed said she is worried about the direction of the country and added that the economy will remain a major factor in how she votes in November. “I feel secure enough for now, but I wouldn’t want to be without a job for more than a year,” she said.
Reed, a McCain supporter in 2008, was critical of Obama’s approach to the economic recession. “I think that his stimulus package was an attempt at a quick fix. I don’t think it was an appropriate long-term solution. Adding to the deficit doesn’t help the nation in the long run,” she said.
Reed said that while she is planning to vote for the GOP candidate in the fall, she has yet to settle on one candidate during the primary.
Burley echoed Reed’s sentiment on the importance of the economy when she explained that her student loan debt was a major factor in her decision to move back in with her father. “Had I known that my Dad was going to be unemployed for 18 months, I probably would have chosen to go to a state school in Colorado. Because of his unemployment, the loans are 100 percent on me,” Burley said. Although she was able to defer her federal student loans, Burley has started paying back her private loans.
When asked how her current economic situation might influence her vote in November, Burley said, “I still plan to vote for Obama, but I would like to see the economy improve. There has been some improvement, but nowhere near enough.”