Let's revise the old saw about how people are politically liberal when they're young and conservative as they grow older. It's beginning to seem truer to say that when you're young, you are basically nothing.
Yes, it's true that opinion polls show Barack Obama holds a strong lead over Mitt Romney among voters under 30. Does this mean they all cleared time to watch the presidential debates? I doubt it. More likely a lot of young "voters" had something better to do, such as using that 90 minutes to re-watch re-runs of "Everybody Loves Raymond" on the TV Land channel.( Collapse )
The Pew Research Center released a survey last weekend that had some startling data about young voters' level of interest in the 2012 election and in politics generally.
The enthusiasm that inflated the Obama hope-and-change bubble is leaking. The share of voters under 30 who are paying very close attention to this election is 18%. At this time four years ago, high interest was twice that. This time, most may not even qualify as voters: Only about 50% are certain they are registered to vote, the lowest such number Pew has measured in 16 years.
Needless to say, Mitt Romney is not picking up what Barack Obama has lost. Four years ago, about 75% of under-30s calling themselves McCain supporters had given a lot of thought to that election. This year's Romney leaners have a focus rate of about 60%.
What these numbers show is a process of political disconnection among under-30s. And why not? This is the bitter fruit of a reality familiar across low-growth Western Europe: Youth unemployment is breeding youth disengagement. Over the past four years, the unemployment rate for Americans age 16 to 24 has been twice the rate for the general population. Currently it's about 17%. For young blacks it's 28%.
Some might say employment data can't be driving political disengagement because 80% of them are working. Well, they're sort of working. A detailed study of job status earlier this year by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University found that more than 53% of college graduates under 25 last year wereunderemployed—working in jobs unequal to their college or post-graduate attainment.
The depressive effects of having no job or a junk job for a long time have been well documented. As an economic proposition, it means also that many in this generation are falling way off the curve for lifetime earnings, savings and debt pay-downs. Call it Generation Jobbed.
Western Europe is about a decade ahead of the U.S. in showing the path downward once a low economic-growth rate gets locked in, as may be happening here. Where we could be headed politically was suggested by a small but telling story this week from France, where chronically high youth unemployment sits at about 22%.
Recently, three 30-something Frenchmen—an entrepreneur, a TV journalist and a rap singer—began a campaign called "Barrez-Vous," which means "beat it." Emigration is the only answer, they said, because France is in the grip of a "sclerotic gerontocracy that is collapsing a little more every day." (Website: http://barrez-vo2.us/site/)
"Sclerotic gerontocracy"? Who might that be? If you're 30, it's the brain-dead class in possession of your politics. The French "Beat It" movement is onto something. Whether in Europe or the U.S., the air is filled with cries to solve various debt calamities. Look closely, though, and you'll notice that virtually any political "solution" on offer to the euro crisis or U.S. debt will essentially force people age zero to 35—jobs or no jobs—to spend their lifetimes paying off the rolled-over debt that bails out the politicians and guarantees benefit flows to the older half of the population, which will escape to worry-free graves before the crisis returns.
It may be true that what's left of the 2012 youth vote is largely left-leaning remnants that will fall in behind Barack Obama. Still, they should ask the French "barrez-vous" people about Mr. Obama's campaign offer of cut-rate interest on tuition loans.
With virtually free higher education, Europe's low-growth utopias have the world's largest, best-educated population of jobless young people. With four more years of below-average growth under Barack Obama almost a certainty, cheaper tuition will mainly send more graduates into a desert of unemployment or underemployment. Hi, I'm Marty and I'll be your waiter for the next 40 years.
I'm always struck when Barack Obama says that no matter what system we choose, he personally is going to be fine. That's true.