As commencement approaches next week, the weather is calling for thunderstorms, and the imagery couldn't be more apt. What is usually supposed to be a moment of celebration and achievement has turned into a ritual laden with Schadenfreude, as the rest of the world looks on, grimacing, with talk of the recession and its heirs -- my class.
Jokes of walking off stage and into unemployment permeate any conversation about graduation. "What are you doing after college," they ask, grateful that they aren't in this place; they aren't the ones who must now pull themselves away from the institutional umbilical cord that we call (in my case) a private liberal arts college.
But because Sarah Lawrence is private, there is no restriction on financial aid that I can receive from the college's private endowment. This means I get about $49,000 in grants from my school each year. This takes care of the brunt of the expense, but still leaves a sizeable amount left, which is remedied by federal assistance, including Pell Grants and subsidized student loans.
There is no doubt that vying for a college education has become somewhat of a punishment. Tuition keeps increasing, aid keeps decreasing, and the job market is virtually non-existent for young people.
These problems, however, are thankfully not being completely ignored. A new report released by three youth advocacy organizations -- the United States Student Association, U. S. Public Interest Research Group, and Demos -- reveals startling facts about the financial crisis and its impact on the nation's youth, and students in particular. The study, entitled Risking Our Future Middle Class: Young Americans Need Financial Reform, points out three fundamental challenges to young Americans seeking financial reform:
- Young people (16-24 year-olds) have higher unemployment rates than any other population group.
- Programs have been cut, or tuitions increased, or both, at most of the country's public colleges and universities.
- Young Americans have high levels of indebtedness due to private student loans, credit card balances, mortgages and car loans.
America's future middle class is at risk, and with it the country's ability to compete on a world stage. We need the proposed legislation in the Senate, particularly the America's Restoring Financial Stability Act, S. 3217, which would establish an independent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that would protect students from unfair loan practices and the credit card manipulations that saddle us with debt.
In the bigger picture, young people need a stable economy -- at least a fair economy. We are not asking for hand outs, we are asking for a fair shot. At a time in life where we are charged with the responsibility of making ourselves into autonomous, financially-independent adults responsible for the future of this country, we deserve everything the generations before us were afforded. We need a banking system that isn't vulnerable to catastrophic collapse. We need a financial sector that doesn't suck the life out of the real economy. And we need jobs.
Every generation wants to do better than the last, but my generation has precious little chance to make this happen with out major reforms. We are being made to suffer from the mistakes of others. The boogeyman federal deficit is not what we're worried about. We are worried about the corruption and government capture that are standing in the way of reform.
As I walk across the stage, I'll keep my fingers crossed. But I won't hold my breath.
Justin Lutz is a Junior Fellow as the Roosevelt Institute.