In 2008, record numbers of young people turned out for President Obama. Some were young people I know and care for. They responded to the lofty rhetoric of hope and change, and rallied to the promise of bipartisanship, transparency, and policy changes that would get the U.S. economy back on track.
Four years later, college graduates are staring down the worst economy anyone has seen in decades.
At a stage in life when they should be excited about what they are doing, this generation of graduates is known best for what they are not doing. They are not entering the workforce, and in record numbers they are not entering it. To make matters worse, they are saddled with record levels of personal debt.
Nice way to start your adult life.
Many who do enter the workforce are taking jobs they could have landed without going to college in the first place. Others are hiding out in graduate school, hoping that the economy will pick up when they finish. Others still are hunkered down in their parents’ basement, waiting for the storm to clear.
And if you think their job prospects are bleak, consider that they are also looking to inherit debt levels no generation has ever seen, and worker-to-retiree ratios that make them wonder whether there will be anything left for them when they retire.
Oh, that’s right. You need a job to actually retire from!
Much has also been written about the class warfare that critics think President Obama is perpetuating. But there is a much more insidious conflict brewing in this country, and it’s a generational one.
America has been living on credit cards and IOUs, and today’s young people are the generation left holding the bag.
If Romney and his advisors were wise, they’d seize this once-in-a-political-lifetime opportunity to win the youth vote, because young people are ripe for the picking.
Forget “leave no child behind.” Mitt Romney should make a pledge to leave no college graduate behind.
He needs to explain to them — in simple terms — how his policies and his ideas will help land them good jobs and shrink the debt levels the American public is heaping on its children and grandchildren.
He should talk about how jobs are created, and by whom, and why it is so exciting to participate in the free-enterprise system.
He should talk about how some states in this great country are doing better than others, and describe how policy choices and leadership impact job creation.
He should talk about his old home state of Michigan, where he grew up. Back in the 1950s, Michigan boasted a per capita income that was among the highest in the nation. It was a magnet for capital and talent.
But bad government policies, high taxes, union bosses, trial lawyers, and many bad decisions by leadership changed everything.
In 1960, Detroit had 1.8 million residents. Today it has 700,000. In 1960, Dallas had 670,000. Today it has nearly 1.2 million.
According to census data, the population of Texas grew by a staggering 20 percent from 2000 to 2010. Michigan, by contrast, slid from 9,938,000 to 9,876,000.
Mitt Romney should explain why people — and corporations — are voting with their feet and moving from places like Michigan to places like Texas.
Today, the young people I know from Michigan who’ve found good jobs are finding them out of state. And are moving to places like Virginia, Oklahoma, and even North Dakota.
Michigan used to export cars; now they are exporting college graduates.
There is one other thing Mitt Romney should dare to tackle: young people’s dreams. Because it turns out young people — and older people, too — are not dreaming as big as Americans once did. A recent study revealed that almost 47 percent of us think we won’t do as well as our parents.
That’s what happens when our highest-ranking elected officials don’t believe in the American Dream. That belief trickles down to those, especially the young and the restless, who need to believe in it the most.
Mitt Romney needs to tell graduates that the American Dream is still alive and that he believes that they, not the government, can help solve our nation’s problems.
He needs to tell young people that our best days are ahead of us. That our future is filled with enterprises not yet born, inventions not yet made, and jobs not yet created. That if only we would allow our entrepreneurs and those who invest in them to dream big, this nation will have a century like no other.
He needs to invoke the spirit of George Washington, who said this: “A people who are possessed of the spirit of commerce, who see, and who will pursue their advantages, may achieve almost anything.”
Old words, indeed. But as true and as inspiring now as they were back in the 18th century.
— Lee Habeeb is the vice president of content at Salem Radio Network, which syndicates Bill Bennett, Mike Gallagher, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, and Hugh Hewitt. He lives in Oxford, Miss., with his wife, Valerie, and daughter, Reagan.