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Young Jobseekers Struggle in Tough Economy

May 7, 2012
Weekly Columns

Today's parents face a prospect rare in American history: the possibility that our children and grandchildren will inherit an America with less opportunity and prosperity than previous generations enjoyed. Integral to the American Dream is the assumption that each generation will enjoy a higher standard of living and economic opportunity than their parents did. However, the economic downturn and unsustainable government debt levels have combined to create troubling economic trends that point to an uncertain future for today's young people.

The Associated Press (AP) reports that 1 in 2 new college graduates are currently unemployed or underemployed -- working in low wage jobs while they search unsuccessfully for employment opportunities in their fields of study. As a consequence of the difficult economic environment, 3 in 10 young adults now live with their parents -- the highest rate recorded since the 1950s, according to the Pew Research Center.

Compounding the problem is the massive burden of student loan debt. The total debt owed on outstanding student loans recently topped $1 trillion for the first time. School loan debt has doubled in just the past five years and now surpasses even credit card debt. Students are borrowing twice the amount they did a decade ago -- only now, their prospects of earning enough to begin paying down the debt are much more uncertain.

If current trends continue, today's young people may eventually find retirement security to be as elusive as landing that first job. The latest annual reports from the Medicare and Social Security Trustees predict that Medicare will be bankrupt by 2024 and Social Security will follow in 2033.

Most members of Congress agree that Washington should address these important issue, but we often disagree on specific policy solutions. House Republicans have passed more than 30 bipartisan jobs bills that the Democratically controlled Senate refuses to consider. Most recently, we passed legislation that grants a 20 percent tax cut to small businesses. This sector of the economy creates 65 percent of new jobs. However, a recent study found that 80 percent of the small businesses surveyed have not hired anyone in the last three months, and 45 percent of those don’t intend to. Unemployed and underemployed young people would certainly benefit from the 10,000 yearly jobs this legislation would create if the Senate will agree to passage.

House Republicans also took action to provide student loan relief. The Interest Rate Reduction Act we passed on April 27 would extend the current 3.4 percent interest rates on federal student loans for one year, paid for by eliminating nonessential spending from President Obama's health care law. The president and his party agree that loan rates should stay low, but they've proposed paying for it by raising taxes on oil and gas producers -- even though the increased costs will surely be passed along to consumers and business, who already cite high energy prices as an obstacle to hiring.

The biggest divergence of opinion in Congress concerns the overall budget. House Republicans passed a budget plan to save Medicare and Social Security for future generations, reform the tax system to create jobs, and deal with long-term debt. Senate Democrats have not passed a budget in over 1,000 days.

As discouraging as the economic news and Washington gridlock are, there is a silver lining. That same troubling AP study contains good news for Oklahoma. While reporting gloomy employment rates for the Mountain West, southeastern states, and the Pacific region, the analysts place us "on the other end of the scale," identifying "the southern U.S., anchored by Texas" as "most likely to have young college graduates in higher-skill jobs."

Despite being bruised by the toughest job market in years, young people remain upbeat. The Pew study found that 77 percent of the young adults compelled to move back in with their parents after college are optimistic about their future finances.

Young Americans have the same sense of optimism and industriousness that exemplify the unique American character, and they deserve the same opportunities that sustain the American Dream.