The Young America’s Foundation calls attention to the “Youth Misery Index,” which it says has been skyrocketing during the Obama years, and has reached an all-time high. Certainly advocacy groups of all stripes love to create headline-grabbing metrics – anybody can work a little math on any numbers they choose and produce a dreadful, or encouraging, indicator. So let’s take a look at how the Youth Misery Index is computed, and what YAF believe it portends:
At no point in recent history has life been harder for America’s young people. The Youth Misery Index adds together youth unemployment, average graduating student debt (in thousands), and national debt per capita (in thousands).
Youth unemployment is at 16.3 percent—one of the highest levels since World War II. Average graduating student debt has reached a record-breaking $29,400. National debt per capita is $52,948—the highest ever. Add it up, and the Youth Misery Index comes out to 98.6 (16.3 + 29.4 + 52.9 = 98.6).
What does this number mean? Like Jimmy Carter’s Misery Index, the YMI uncovers some real threats to our nation’s prosperity. The government is largely responsible for all three problems, and we’ve found a statistically significant relationship between government expenditures and the Youth Misery Index. Each indicator can be tied to government actions.
Ashley Pratte of the YAF gave an interview to The College Fix in which she put today’s 98.6 Youth Misery Index in historical perspective:
In 2012 it was 95.1, and the year before that 90.6. When Obama first took office in 2009, it was 83.5.
When President George Bush left office in 2008 – the index was 69.3. When the figure debuted in 1993, it came in at 53.1.
The foundation argues “there appears to be a statistically significant relationship between government expenditures and the Youth Misery Index.”
“Under the Obama administration alone, the YMI has increased by 18.1 percent, the highest increase under any president, making Obama the worst president for youth economic opportunity—not quite the hope and change many young people were looking for.”
Pratte said this represents a prime opportunity for conservatives.
“This entitlement society is perpetuated by the Obama administration,” she said. “You want health care, we’ll give it to you for free. That was a promise, and young people are inclined to expect these things.”
“When they realize, ultimately, they have to pay for it, this is an opportunity for conservatives to get their message out there. … Young people are really adverse to government intrusion.”
Well, I wouldn’t necessarily jump to any conclusions about how young people are currently “adverse to government intrusion” as a group, but they absolutely should be. The deficit portion of the Youth Misery Index is taxation without representation, from their perspective, and they should view it as dimly as America’s founders did.
Today’s youth will grow up to inherit a massive tax burden they will be told they have no choice but to pay, dropped on their backs by politicians they were too young to vote against. If they resist paying that debt, people like Barack Obama will compare them to deadbeat diners trying to skip out on a dinner check. If you don’t mind taking advice from someone who remembers the heyday of 8-track tapes, kids, your skin should crawl like an undead army was marching across your grave every time you hear someone like Obama talk that way. Pay attention to the way today’s budget battles always devolve to supposedly irresistible demands for more government debt and higher taxes, because we simply must pay the bills big-spending politicians have already racked up. You’re going to get that, times a billion, and it will no longer be possible to pretend that super-rich people can cover all the bills.
The other big problem with mounting government debt is that it has a way of crowding out spending on other priorities, which the government naturally does not wish to relinquish. A young person entering the workforce today will only enjoy a decade or two, at most, of anything remotely resembling the freedom inherited from his parents and grandparents. After that, the burden of mandatory debt and entitlement spending will consume the entirety of our already bloated federal budget… and you may rest assured our central government will not content itself with making interest payments on its debt, figuring out a way to keep Social Security and Medicare running for a while longer, and shutting everything else down. It was a great innovation of the Left to trick people into thinking government spending is not a big problem, as long as taxes are not raised too much. In truth, government spending is an offense against liberty – both today, as it distorts the economy, and tomorrow, as it curdles into tax increases.
Student loan debt is obviously a more personal debt crisis for many young people, and yes indeed, it is a direct consequence of government policy. Among other things, students are paying the price for government’s insistence on flooding the system with easy money, which university administrators are all too eager to gobble up. The cost of higher education is utterly divorced from economic reality, and such divorces never result in thrift.
Also, those pricey university educations are delivering a lot of remedial training to make up for what earlier schools didn’t teach. It’s ridiculous how much a university diploma has become the ticket that merely lets you play in the employment game, with no guarantee of success. As “Dirty Jobs” host and skilled trade advocate Mike Rowe memorably put it: “If we are lending money that ostensibly we don’t have, to kids who have no hope of making it back, in order to train them for jobs that clearly don’t exist, I might suggest that we’ve gone around the bend a bit.”
What is a young person clutching an expensive advanced degree supposed to think, when she walks out of the university to hear the unemployment rate from her age group is 16.3 percent, we supposedly need to import labor to cover the jobs that do exist – including the positions that require degrees – and for good measure, she’s expected to buy overpriced health insurance to subsidize lower rates for older, richer people, or pay a fine for her defiance? Oh, and that fine’s going to skyrocket over the next couple of years, because it was politically necessary to hide its true burden at first.
We should be giving young people opportunities, not handing them a stack of past-due bills and telling them to fetch us refreshments while an exhausted nation sprawls upon the couch of history, convinced it can no longer be the powerhouse of growth that allows each generation to give its children a better future. I’ll give young people concerned about the Youth Misery Index a preview of what awaits them, if they demand more freedom and opportunity: first they’ll be told they have no right to make such demands, because they are morally obliged to pay the bills their parents accumulated. If they persist, they’ll be told to fear the uncontrolled, unregulated, unprovided future. They’ll be told they can never scale the heights they read about in history books. Reject those lies with all your strength, and refuse to live in the prison today’s central planners have designed for you.