College commencement is supposed to be a time for moving forward. But for many of this year's college graduates, it will instead mean moving back — back home with mom and dad to continue the job search. Despite signs of economic improvement, graduates of the class of 2013 are still confronting the painful ripple effects of the Great Recession. Rather than entering a promising career with a rewarding paycheck, the young people who are fortunate enough to get a job are finding themselves in unpaid internships or, like more than a quarter million graduates last year, in minimum wage positions.
A college degree is no longer a surefire defense against high unemployment and low wages in this economic climate. As a result, the $26,000 of student loan debt carried by the average college graduate seems more like a burden and less like an investment. The outlook is even grimmer for those without college degrees. Overall unemployment for young people is 11.1%. Further, half of young people are taking jobs they don't want just to pay the bills, and nearly a third are delaying major life decisions like getting married and having children.
A recent report by Demos indicated that our economy will need to add 4.1 million more jobs just to get young people back to the point where we were before the recession. The only hope in preventing the American Dream from becoming a lifelong nightmare is for political gridlock in Washington to give way to robust and sustainable economic growth. And an agenda for creating more jobs for young people must begin with fixing our national debt, which represents both a short- and long-term threat to our economy.
First, without a plan to address our unsustainable deficits, businesses remain uncertain about future government tax and spending policy. This uncertainty holds back investment, which in turn holds back job creation. Partially as a result, U.S. companies are keeping more than $1.4 trillion in cash in their corporate coffers.
Second, brinksmanship in Washington regularly causes artificial crises that scare the markets and slow the economy. During the debt-ceiling debacle in 2011, for example, job creation was nearly cut in half over four months. And while the fiscal cliff fiasco of 2012 may not have immediately hurt as hard as expected, it certainly did not help.
Third, growing public debt will eventually begin to crowd out private investment, which will lead to lower savings and wages in the future. Keep in mind that millennials are already seeing depressed wages and savings as a result of the recession. While the most recent Congressional Budget Office report shows a better short-term scenario due to recent tax hikes and spending cuts, we remain on track for an explosion of debt in the decades that follow. Our long-term outlook is in bad shape because Washington has failed to address the fundamental drivers of our deficit, primarily health care spending and growing costs of entitlement programs. As a result, even the millennial generation's retirement security is at risk.
A solution to our fiscal imbalance requires a generationally balanced deficit reduction agreement. This agreement should couple structural changes in entitlement programs that slow spending and pro-growth tax reforms that raise additional revenue. At the same time, it is important that crucial investments in our future such as education, infrastructure and research — which have already shouldered a disproportionate amount of cuts — are protected. These are the kinds of investments that will help grow our economy and keep our country competitive for generations to come. A deal on the debt between both parties can help spur confidence, increase investment and create jobs.
Recent polling by Harvard University indicated that millennials view creating jobs and reducing the federal deficit as the top two issues facing America today. Young people understand that rather than being competing priorities, these issues are interdependent. Future economic growth depends on getting our fiscal house in order, and reducing the deficit requires a growing economy. So it's time for both parties in Washington to stop bickering and pay attention: the largest and fastest growing voting bloc in America wants our leaders to work together to fix the debt and grow our economy.
Young people who want to get more involved in urging a solution should RSVP for a national "tele-commencement" address by Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University and former Governor of Indiana, next Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. — and learn more about The Can Kicks Back's "Mom Meatloaf" initiative. It's time to return college commencement to what it always promised to be, a stepping-stone to a more secure and prosperous future.
Jevin Hodge is a student at George Washington University and the operations manager for The Can Kicks Back, a non-partisan and millennial-driven campaign to fix the national debt and reclaim our American Dream.