Americans are all about to get royally screwed by the fiscal cliff unless our politicians do something to avoid it by the end of this month, and that's looking less and less likely.
"I think the probability is we're going over the cliff," said Erskine Bowles, former co-chair of 2010's unsuccessfully deadlocked (and now just plain dead) Simpson-Bowles debt commission.
While I am still holding to my conviction that "if we're going off the cliff anyway, we may as well jump off together," let us take a moment to pause and consider why this latest economic crisis is going to make millennial's lives just a little bit, or maybe a lot, more miserable.
1) We Need Jobs Dammit - Should we go over the cliff, the overall economy stands to lose 2.8 million jobs between 2013 and 2017. Millennials need jobs, and the fiscal cliff means fewer jobs will be available thanks to the real or perceived difficulties companies face. Here's the rub - even when companies can use more employees, the possibilities of more taxation and fewer investors make them feel that they cannot justify hiring more professionals. When they do decide to hire, often they are looking for someone who is a sure bet.
In my own search for employment, my biggest obstacle are the words "5 years experience required." I may be fully qualified, and even overqualified for some positions, but my experience has been in such a variety of fields from political campaigning to web development that it seems I do not have solid, continuous employment on which a company can judge my potential worth. Since millennials today will have more careers, with more employers and non-traditional jobs than at any point in the past (changing jobs 15 to 20 times throughout their careers), it is harder to fill that old "sure bet" role they want to hire.
Despite the bravado that we heard during the campaign about both Republicans and Democrats wanting to create more jobs, here we are today facing the possibilities of even fewer jobs because they can't agree on the means to help create these jobs. Maybe our politicians don't realize, or care, that the dispute between the parties is itself a big barrier in helping to create jobs because of the uncertainty it creates. If they cared more about people than politics, maybe they would actually find a way to work together instead of just saying it's "my way or the highway."
2) We Didn't Start This Fire, We Just Get to Put it Out - My favorite part of this whole debacle is that a good number of millennials, like me, who didn't come of age until the later 2000s, really had no say in the poor decision making of our parents and the country at large when they decided to elect a neoconservative, puppet war hawk who had no foresight and, in the grand scheme of things, no business being in the Oval Office. President George W. Bush only won because of the success of the Clinton-era policies tacking us back to financial solvency (the state of the economy ranked as the #11 issue among voters in the 2000 election - remember those days?) and the nation's feeling of ease/disinterest in politics as we squabbled over social issues for lack of anything better to argue about. As often happens during the good times, the nation didn't think about what kind of a leader it would want if a time of turmoil were to be put upon us – where's Captain Hindsight when we need him?
Now, younger millennials are contemplating how exactly they're going to make livings and find their way in the world while our leaders argue whether Reagan or Clinton had the right ideas.
Theoretically, every person wields the same basic amount of political power in the U.S. This is not true - at all - because those with the largest pocketbooks wield the bulk of political power. Given that there aren't enough millennials to replace the baby boomers, the difficulties of finding jobs and the possibility of globalism reducing overall per capita income, millennials may find their political power reduced until the baby boom generation passes and leaves us the messes it created.
3) Forget About the Public Safety Nets - The public safety nets that exist were not designed with the fiscal cliff in mind. Not only will they suffer cuts in funding should we go over the cliff, but more people will be needing them than ever, especially unemployed or underemployed millennials with little savings. Federal food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutritiona Assistance Program and Women, Infants, and Children Program stand to lose up to a half billion dollars in funding, resulting in fewer allocations to those in need and potential changes in requirements to qualify for these programs.
Other public programs will also suffer including those that reduce crime and domestic violence. Not only will this directly impact millennials who need access to services, it's going to hurt cities themselves. In Kansas City, for example, the city has invested tons of money in revitalizing the downtown area and attracting young people to live in the city itself, but concerns over crime and safety are already hampering their efforts. The fiscal cliff could represent another destructive force for such mid-tier cities as access to services decreases and crime rises as people find unlawful ways to fulfill their needs.
4) Increased Cynicism - This may seem like an existential danger, but cynicism can be toxic to a democratic system of government. Sure, we're all at least a little cynical when it comes to our government, as we should be, but the failure of our leaders to resolve problems will lead to even less trust in them and the system as a whole. As more millennials come of age, will we ever see an outpouring of support from the young generation like we did for Obama in 2008? Like him or not, it was his message of hope that inspired millennial-age voters to turn out en masse, but the challenges of his presidency and the atmosphere in Washington have reminded us of how pointless it can be to keep believing in such messages. The country bought Obama's message, but it was already too late to stop us from reaching this inevitable cliff.
Since voting is essential to the processes of democratic governance, and as millennials become more disillusioned with the system that seems to continually fail, voter turnout will again fall and power will again concentrate into the hands of those who are not the best the choices for leadership. Eventually this will lead to the election of another George W. Bush, who will lead us to the next fiscal cliff and repeat this painful, pointless cycle over and over again. Next time though, it will be the fault of the millennials who have given up on a system that continues to fail.
5) We May Never Agree On Anything (Ever Again) - On December 4, 2012, Senate Republicans blocked the ratification of a non-binding UN treaty that aimed to assure the enjoyment of all human rights to those with disabilities. Why is this so shocking? Because it mirrors and holds up the Americans with Disabilities Act, in effect in the US since 1990, as a model of rights for the disabled worldwide and would create no new legal rights or procedures within the US itself. The vote, with 61 senators in favor and 38 opposed, failed to receive the required two-thirds majority needed to ratify a treaty. When enacted in 1990, the bill passed the senate 91-6.
Maybe I'm a little biased because I worked at the Dole Institute of Politics and this law was one landmark of Senator Dole's political career (not to mention one of the most personally important to him), but when I heard about this Senate failure I was shocked. The reason for the opposition was largely that the treaty created an international advisory committee on disabled rights, and opposed Republican's claim that we would be required to participate in any recommendation the panel makes, infringing on US sovereignty. "This unelected bureaucratic body would pass recommendations that would be forced upon the United States if we were a signatory," said Senator Inhofe. Bush and Obama both signed versions of this treaty. If our congress cannot agree on even this, a non-binding advisory committee that doesn't make any real changes at home and something we have had in this country for the past two decades, is there any hope of ever agreeing on anything? Ever?
I think this is the proof, we're definitely going over the cliff, and if politics continues this way, millennials are definitely screwed.