Agness: Young People After Four Years of President Obama

Obama inauguration January 2009 (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

On Monday, young people across the country will watch, cheer and tweet as they celebrate the inauguration of the man they helped reelect president of the United States. The enthusiasm will be reminiscent of the excitement four years ago when President Obama was sworn in as the 44th president.

Only this time, we know what young people get after four years of Obama’s policies. He no longer has the luxury of being judged just on the promise of hope and change. After four years of Obama, young people now face high unemployment and underemployment, increased health care costs and most recently, less take home pay compared to last year due to higher payroll taxes.

Obama’s policies have weakened our economy, and the opportunities for graduating seniors are not getting better. Ask today’s college senior who voted for Obama in 2008 how strong their job prospects are, and their answer will be virtually unchanged to a college senior’s answer four years ago—not strong at all.

College seniors faced a tough job market in January 2009 as unemployment for adults ages 20-24 was 12.4 percent and rose to 15 percent by the May 2009 graduation season.

The high school seniors who watched Obama’s inauguration four years ago are now college seniors who will enter an economy that remains sluggish. For today’s adults ages 20-24, the unemployment rate stands at 13.7 percent.

This doesn’t give much hope to the young voter who assumed that four years of Obama would make their job prospects better.

Some young people are starting to realize they assumed too much. Today’s college senior likely voted for Obama in 2008, but the president’s margin of support over his Republican challengers among 18-29 year olds dropped 11 points from 2008 levels, based on the 2012 presidential exit poll. What caused this shift in enthusiasm? Perhaps it’s the growing sentiment that opportunity is shrinking for today’s young adults.

Throughout our nation’s history, each generation of Americans has boasted a better standard of living than the proceeding generation. That is a source of pride. About a month before the 2009 inauguration, Gallup asked the following question: “How likely do you think it is that today’s youth will have a better life than their parents – very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely, or very unlikely?”

At that time, 56 percent of Americans believed it very or somewhat likely that America’s youth would have a better life than their parents.

Under Obama, this number hit an all-time low of 44 percent in April 2011—the lowest level of optimism in decades. Last month, the number rose to 49 percent, which is still lower than when Obama took office.

Why the pessimism about the future of the next generation? The high unemployment rate and a sluggish economy translate into difficult personal realities for many of those high school seniors who supported Obama in 2008. Those students are now looking forward to another graduation—but after this graduation, many will move from their college dorms back to their high school homes, sending out resume after resume with no success.

While we should watch each new class of graduates walk across the stage, diploma in hand, moving into a new phase of life with a sense of boundless opportunities ahead, instead opportunities seem quite limited for today’s college graduates.

Unless our elected officials fix our fiscal issues and create the conditions for a vibrant economy, I’m afraid today’s high school seniors will face a similar future on the next inauguration day.

Karin Agness is the director of academic programs at the American Enterprise Institute.

Learn more at www.aei.org/for-students