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Young People Must Act Now to Protect Their Future

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Originally printed in Friday, September 23, 2011 Edition of the Houston Chronicle.   Link to the original: click here

As President Obama is selling his American Jobs Act and deficit-reduction plan and Republicans cry "it won't work" and "class warfare," America faces the threat of a lost generation. Young people need to act now to protect the future.

With Gov. Rick Perry's White House run gaining steam, Texas is a focal point for policy discussion, and not all of the attention is positive. A new report from the U.S. Census Bureau found Texas had one of the nation's worst poverty rates, with the 2010 rate growing to 18.4 percent from the previous year's 17.3 percent. The report also covered health insurance rates, and Texas had the largest number of uninsured in the country.

Houston is a young city, with 25 percent of the population between the ages of 18 and 34. A 2010 Portfolio.com study ranked Houston as one of the top five locations for young people. The census report showed the recession has been especially hard on young adults. Since the start of the recession, the number of young adults aged 25-34 living with their parents has grown by a more than 1 million.

Those living in their parents' households have an official poverty rate of 8.4 percent, but if they lived alone, the number would skyrocket to 45.3 percent. America's young people need to take political action to address these problems. In 2012, they voted in massive numbers, helping to propel Barack Obama to the White House. Some political pundits said the youth vote may have been the key to Obama's victory.

According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, the 2008 election saw 51 percent of eligible 18- to 24-year-olds vote. Obama's election nearly surpassed the 52 percent bar set in 1972 when Vietnam weighed on young people's minds.

Of those who voted, 68 percent voted for President Obama, and he pledged to address issues important to young people.

The largest issue was the flagging economy and lack of jobs. Obama's stimulus package prevented the unemployment rate from climbing to 11.5 percent, according to Princeton's Alan Blinder and Moody's Analytics' chief economist, Mark Zandi. Now, Obama is calling for an American Jobs Act and reaching out to the public for support.

Obama and the White House team should be targeting young people, the demographic most deeply affected by the economy, and young people should answer his call.

On education, Obama set out to increase funding for Pell Grants, a federal program offering assistance to American students in paying education costs. Federal investment in college education is an investment in the future of American security and competitiveness.

The cost of education is continuing to rise in America; average Texas in-state tuition is $8,230 a year, and private tuition can easily runs $40,000 to $50,000. In Chile, young people protested the cost of higher education; America's young people need to protest at the ballot box and with calls to Congress.

Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee has been a strong advocate for education and co-founded the Congressional Children's Caucus because she believes that "our children are our nation's greatest strength and resource." Young Houstonians should reach out to her.

If young people want their voices to be heard, they need to take a page from older Americans and pick up the phone and call their representatives in Washington. The number for U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee's office is 202-225-3816, and the numbers to other congressional offices can be found at: contactingthecongress.org.

Lewis is a former senior policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates, a Washington think tank.


 

James Lewis is a former Senior Policy/National Security Analyst at the Washington-based think-tank, Robert Weiner Associates. He has also worked for Student Conservation Association as a Crew Leader engaging low-income urban students in a summer (more...)
 
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