Katie LaPotin, Red Alert Politics, October 26, 2013
It used to be that a college degree would all but guarantee you a job with a good salary and the promise of a bright future. But that’s no longer the case, and unfortunately that has turned today’s twenty-something’s into a bit of a lost generation.
I was fortunate in the sense that I got a decent, entry-level job within weeks of finishing my coursework for my Master’s degree – making me among the first of my classmates to do so. The thing that sticks with me the most, however, is something my mom told me shortly after signing my employment contract: “You’re doing better than most, you’re making more than double your age at your first real job.”
Unfortunately I got stuck among that group of unlucky Americans who started college when the economy was flourishing, but graduated after the market crashed in the fall of 2008. I did all the right things while I was in school – interned, networked, joined on-campus clubs and held leadership positions in them – but ultimately that wasn’t enough to save me from suffering the same fate that many of my peers who weren’t as proactive in school also face.
I bring up my personal story because I’m not alone. Millions of my peers are struggling just like I am; for example, a recent study by the Opportunity Nation Coalition found that nearly six million young adults are considered to be “idle” – that is, neither gainfully employed nor enrolled in college classes. The unemployment rate for Americans aged 18-29 is more than double the national unemployment rate, and has been that way for several years now.
To make matters worse, there’s that pesky issue of student loan debt. As more and more students take out loans to complete their undergrad and post-graduate degrees, the amount of student loan debt in the United States among young adults has risen so high that it’s even surpassed the amount of credit card debt accumulated by all Americans.
The average student with a degree from a four-year university owes the federal government $27,000 in debt. Much of that comes from the skyrocketing cost of college tuition, compounded with a decrease in the amount of merit- or need-based assistant provided by the university in recent years. To put that into perspective, even after accounting for inflation my parents paid twice as much for my sister, who graduated with a four-year degree earlier this year, to go to a state university than they paid for themselves to go to that same university thirty years ago.
Student loan debt has become such a major issue that the federal government chose to prioritize it this past summer and not focus on more pressing issues like immigration reform and passing a federal budget. Ironically, their solution did little to fix the problem, as the problem only affected a small percentage of those taking out student loans from the federal government while adding more to the national debt. Plus, for the average student today the difference between having an interest rate of 3.4 percent and 6.8 percent a month is about $7 – or the cost of shot-laden drink from Starbucks or value meal at McDonalds.
Even healthcare has become a major issue for today’s Millennials. One of the few parts of the Affordable Care Act that both Republicans and Democrats agree upon is the ability for adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until the age of 26 – regardless of their personal or financial situation. In fact, when it looked like the Supreme Court would overturn the Affordable Care Act last summer several major insurance companies including Aetna announced that they would continue to allow young adults to stay on their parents’ plans regardless of the decision.
Millennials today are not the first to be considered a “lost” generation – nor will they likely be the last. But it’s important that something is done about it now, because the longer we keep punishing young adults for problems that are not their fault, the worse it becomes both for them and for future generations to come.