Wednesday, March 17, 2004

How America Is Eating Its Young

A biting investigation by Brendan I. Koerner of "Why America's young are being crushed by debt -- and why no one seems to care" presents itself in the new Village Voice and is well worth taking a look at. Here are some high points:

"The average collegian in the U.S. isn't graduating into a world of boundless opportunity, but rather is $20,000-plus in the hole thanks to student loans and credit cards. So begins the snowball effect: The most desirable entry-level jobs often pay wages too low for the indebted, who must fork over a large percentage of their salaries to Sallie Mae or Citibank. Other posts are reserved for those who can afford to work unpaid internships, or whose parents can support them through an extra year or two of graduate studies."

And this: "The cumulative effect is that merely keeping one's head above water, rather than getting ahead, has become the top priority for Americans between the ages of 18 and 34. Pursuing the relatively modest dream of doing better than the generation before requires serious capital -- up front in the form of tuition and loans, and hidden in the form of lost opportunities. Call it the ambition tax -- the money you've got to pony up if you want a college degree and a shot at middle-class bliss. But it's really more of a gamble, as there's no guarantee those tens of thousands of dollars will get you where you want to go."

Add to this bleak assessment the political reality that neither major party, nor their presidential candidates, seem to be paying the least heed: "If the early rhetoric in the presidential race is any indicator, neither candidate cares a whit about the struggles of America's young. George Bush and John Kerry are happy to trade barbs about draft dodging and flip-flopping. But they've yet to utter more than a few peeps about alleviating the unique economic burdens of the next generation, and the one after, and the one after. It's almost as if Americans under the age of 35 don't exist."

An excellent observation, along with the circular logic that the young don't vote and the reason they don't vote is because politicians pay them and their unique problems no mind, and the reason politicians pay them no mind is that they don't vote. The Democrats have an opening here, if Kerry will develop it, to connect with this potential voting bloc, and that will mean going beyond the obvious -- pointing out the disastrous financial course that George Bush has launched us all on, piling mountains of additional public debt on the heads of the young and on their children and their children's children.

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