It’s a tough time to be young and hungry.
Youth employment numbers are historically bad. National student loan debt is somewhere north of the $1 trillion mark. And to top it off, a boomer-controlled federal government is racking up trillions of dollars of debt that they expect young Americans to pay for.
In the dirty world of big-money politics, the young are prime targets for exploitation. Absorbed in their technological fantasy land or perhaps just unaware, the millennial generation seems wholly unprepared for the crushing burdens prepared for them by cynical or delusional politicians. But aware or not, young people will inherit a hopelessly broken economy and a bankrupt government. The blame lies with our leaders, and no leader is more responsible than our current president.
As I write this, the U.S. National Debt is $15,262,027,000,000 (or close to it; the debt goes up so fast that I can’t catch the last six digits). Worse still, the unfunded liabilities of the federal government, including Social Security, Medicare and the prescription drug benefit, are at a staggering $117 trillion and rising.
Since the national government is taking in a trillion dollars less per year than it is spending, the debt will continue to grow — at least until creditors suspect the obvious and call in their debts. At some point, the federal government won’t be able to sustain its programs. And with debt exceeding national GDP, increasing taxes won’t solve the problem. Young people have to face the reality that the great social programs that their parents enjoy — Social Security and Medicare, especially — will no longer be possible. It’s a type of reverse age discrimination: Boomers resist reform and keep the welfare state limping along long enough to fund their retirement, thus ensuring that later generations get all of the costs and none of the benefits. Hello Darwin, goodbye safety net.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I was an undergrad slogging through midterms when I first felt the hope and change sweeping through campus. Candidate Obama was young, hip and educated, a perfect antidote to the familiarly leathery hacks he opposed in the primary and general elections. He performed earth-shaking miracles in the world of politics, not the least of which was convincing young hipsters to forsake their studied nonchalance and join the movement for Real Change.
In 2007, when President Bush asked Congress for yet another debt ceiling increase, Senator Obama protested vigorously, noting “the fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure… a sign that the U.S. government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our government’s reckless fiscal policies.”
This guy is special, I thought.
Aristotle once said, “Youth is easily deceived because it is quick to hope.” Fast forward three years since President Obama’s election and the world hasn’t changed — not for the better, at least. In fact, it’s gotten worse. When Obama took office the national debt was an already unmanageable $10.626 trillion dollars. “Change we can believe in” quickly became “more of the same,” and the debt has spiraled to over $15 trillion. And while Obama schizophrenically calls for reduced debt and increased spending (“investments”), the debt only goes in one direction. In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the government spent $3.6 trillion and took in $2.3 trillion.
For many, the mind-boggling numbers are just another confirmation that the future isn’t as bright as it once was. As if the burden of crushing personal debt and joblessness after college weren’t enough, politicians desperate to shore up the failing welfare state are borrowing incomprehensible amounts of money against the human capital of the youngest generations.
Not surprisingly, President Obama is now himself asking Congress again to increase the debt ceiling by $1.2 trillion. Perhaps he could profit from his own words offered during the 2007 debt ceiling debate: “Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.”
Americans do deserve better. Unfortunately for the younger generation, it’s only likely to get worse.
SAM HOEL is a law student at UC Davis School of Law and can be reached at email@example.com.