Charlotte, N.C. — Like “God” and “Jerusalem” in the Democratic party platform (words added to the platform only after a recent firestorm of criticism), a word barely mentioned at the Democratic Youth Council meeting at the convention was “jobs.”
The omission was striking, given the dire unemployment statistics for young Americans. In July, the unemployment rate among 16- to 24-year-olds was 17.1 percent. More than half of recent college graduates can’t find a job or are working at one for which they are overqualified, according to an Associated Press analysis in April.
But at the Wednesday session, virtually all of the speakers ignored the topic, focusing instead on college costs, health care, gay rights, and Obama’s decision to give legal status to young adults who came here illegally as children.
“I want you all to know that all of us — me, Michelle, Joe, and Barack — we couldn’t have gotten through school without school loans and grants, so we understand what many of you are facing,” Jill Biden said. “So that’s one of the things that this administration has focused on, by trying to keep college more affordable, by keeping the student-loan interest [rates] low, and by doubling the Pell Grants.”
David Simas, director of opinion research for the Obama campaign, touted what Obama had done for young-adult illegal immigrants, bringing up a comparison he said he had heard a woman make. “When Mitt Romney talks about these children, he calls them illegals,” Simas said. “When Barack Obama talks about these children, he calls them dreamers.”
The one exception to the general silence about jobs was made by labor secretary Hilda Solis, who credited Obama with creating 4.5 million jobs and urged those seeking work to visit a government-funded website. “If you’re looking for a job right now, or if you’ve got someone in your household who is,” she told the audience, “go online: myskillsmyfuture.org.”
But while speakers at the Democratic Youth Council overlooked the lousy economy, they offered plenty of adulation for what Obama had done. “I have a 23-year-old son, and if it wasn’t for this president’s making sure that my son could stay on my insurance until he — I don’t know how I would have been able to make ends meet, and I’m not doing bad,” said former New Jersey secretary of state Regina Thomas. “But to try to attempt to pay for his education, his books, and everything else that he needs, plus make sure that my mother, with health not so good, is taken care of, I don’t know what I would have done.”
“So I owe this president everything that I have because he saved me,” she concluded, getting a round of applause from the room.
Simas urged young adults to make the case that Obama’s higher-education policies, such as increasing Pell Grants, were changing lives. He summarized what young Obama supporters should say to persuade voters: “Because of what this president did, [I] and people like me can pursue our dream and our ambition every single day, because, at the end of the day, education is a pathway to the American Dream.”
Rod Snyder, president of Young Democrats for America, argued that young-adult voters were fired up about the election. “In 2012, there are real things happening on the ground,” he said. “Young people are still organizing in historic ways, and I’m tired of the crap that’s coming out of the right-wing media that young people don’t care. It’s absolutely not true. . . . We’re going to turn out at levels that once again make a tremendous difference for Barack Obama on November 6.”
But Snyder’s bravado aside, there is evidence that young adults simply won’t turn out for Obama in the same numbers they did in 2008, when Obama won two-thirds of the votes cast by 18- to 29-year-olds, according to exit polls. In August, a Gallup poll showed that about two-thirds of young women voters supported Obama; among young men, 53 percent supported Obama, and 38 percent supported Romney. A Resurgent Republic poll in August found that only 53 percent of young-adult voters supported Obama, while 35 percent backed Romney.
Voter enthusiasm in this age group may have waned as well: A Pew Research Center poll in June found that 59 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds have given a lot of thought to the election, down from 67 percent in June 2008.
“Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in a systematic way are trying to shut the door of opportunity on our generation, and we cannot let it happen,” Snyder warned. But if Wednesday’s council meeting was representative, the Democrats have no serious plan for bringing opportunity in the form of jobs back to young-adult voters who are now struggling in the Obama economy.
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.