By Brad Chase - Special to CNN
In 2008, the youth vote helped sweep Barack Obama into office. Americans 18-29 spread the word on social media, energized fundraising and went to the polls.
In 2012, the youth vote is moving on and throwing those omnipresent “Hope” bumper stickers and t-shirts in garbage bins.
Not because of apathy. Not because another candidate generates more enthusiasm. Not because of his character. Not because they think voting is pointless. The 18-29 vote is up for grabs in 2012 because youth can’t afford cars to put bumper stickers on and those t-shirts are worn out from too many days sitting on the couch unemployed.
The sobering reality: just 55.3 percent of Americans between 16 and 29 have jobs. And earlier this year, Americans’ student loan debt surpassed credit card debt for the first time ever.
Rather than develop a lasting initiative to help young unemployed Americans, the President launched “Greater Together” – a campaign tool that offers community forums rather than jobs. Rather than provide a bailout to those crushed by the burden of educational loans, his student debt relief program was pathetic – only reducing interest rates by a measly 0.5 percent.
No wonder less than half of Americans 18-29 approve of Obama.
It’s no surprise the President is ignoring millenials. They’re too poor to donate to his campaign this election cycle. Older Americans are 47 times richer than the young – a striking generational gap in prosperity that has widened from a 10 to 1 ratio when Ronald Reagan was running for reelection in 1984. At the same time, Obama is ringing up donations from older voters. In the first 10 months of 2011, he attended 58 fundraisers – twice the number President George W. Bush attended during the comparable period before his reelection. That’s overkill when the GOP candidate is still TBD.
Millenials haven’t embraced any of the GOP candidates yet, but there’s a huge opportunity for the eventual nominee to swoop in and win over the youth vote. They have a short memory, filled mostly with three difficult years under President Obama’s economic stewardship. The Center for the Study of the American Electorate reports that the youth vote won’t come out strongly this time around, but there’s little doubt the voting bloc is up for grabs to the first candidate who offers up viable policies – not themes and slogans – to address their issues.
To win the youth vote in November, a Presidential candidate could start by:
- Creating a limited student debt forgiveness program: It would be impractical and foolhardy to create complete debt amnesty. Instead, erase all federal student debt for those with more than $30,000 in federal student loan debt and cut the bill by 10 percent for those with debts under that threshold. That still leaves students accountable – no free rides – but it eases the crushing burden on millions of millenials. H.Res. 365 by Rep. Hansen Clark (D-MI) was a well-intentioned (albeit pie-in-the-sky) call for debt relief and it’s a good starting point for future efforts.
- Controls on Predatory Lenders/Servicers: Most students need their parents to co-sign loans and then take care of the bills themselves. But private loan servicers like American Education Services (NYSE:AES) have no oversight and resort to bully tactics to threaten students’ parents with credit rating ruin as little as five days after a bill comes overdue for the first time. Not even credit card companies are that ruthless. There’s nothing more humiliating and stressful to students or parents than getting harassed for short-term delinquencies. There’s no need for a Credit Protection Financial Bureau, just more oversight on predators like AES.
- Allowing Student Loan Discharge in Bankruptcy: In 2005, bankruptcy law changed to specifically exclude private student loans from being discharged in bankruptcy proceedings. Young adults don’t want the headache or stigma of going bankrupt, but sheltering private lenders at the expense of recent graduates is wrong. H.R. 2028 will restore pre-2005 terms – support for the bill would be huge in generating millennial votes.
The ancillary benefit of student debt relief is a stimulus to the economy. Older Americans might say that giving money back to the young is an invitation to run up debt again, but millenials have watched their parents get underwater with mortgages and credit cards – it’s the pot calling the kettle black to deny young adults their own bailout. The stimulus will come in the form of solid and responsible purchases: a first couch, a first bed, a first set of dinner plates. This isn’t reckless spending, it’s the type of economic stimulus that Obama’s much-touted stimulus should have been.
Without the youth vote in 2008, the President would have lost North Carolina and Indiana – a 26 delegate swing equal to nearly 10 percent of the 270 electoral college votes needed to win. The 2012 election promises to be closer and the swing of the youth vote could be enough to tip the balance. It’s time the President did some soul searching on his feelings toward the youth vote. And he better do it soon, because the GOP candidate is waiting in the wings and won’t hesitate to take the youth vote.
The views expressed in this article are the authors !