Economic Recovery? Not for Young Adults, Says New Gallup Poll

Jobs, apparently, are finally at the top of President Obama’s to-do list. Or should I say once again at the top of his to-do list. Despite the fact that the economy that has been mired in the muck for nearly six years, fixing it has been an issue that has bedeviled the president to the point where his best idea became to simply ignore it altogether.

Obama’s first term job creation effort was filled with fits and starts. In his second State of the Union address Obama declared that “jobs must be our No. 1 focus in 2010.” He then spent the year focused, almost exclusively, on promoting his health care reform plan and fending off issues like the Gulf of Mexico spill. The following years were much the same, a pivot to the economy followed by a swivel to the liberal issue du jour.

But at one point he had real fire behind the jobs push. The New York Times narrates a conversation between President Obama and his economic team in preparation for his third State of the Union address. At that point the worst of the recession was passed but the president was still looking for an audacious plan to bring down the stubbornly high unemployment rate.

“You know, guys,” he said. “I’ve told you before, I want you to come to me with ideas that excite me.” Nothing the president heard, the Times recounts, excited him.

You know what doesn’t excite us? The fact that young adults have made no economic progress in years that the Obama Administration has termed a “recovery.” Last year, we were treated to a Pew Research poll which revealed that since 2010 only slightly more than half of all 18- to 24-year olds were employed, the lowest percentage since the government began collecting data in 1948.

One would have hoped that a year of substantial job gains, although most of them of the part-time variety, would have benefited young adults’ employment picture. A new Gallup poll tells us differently:

“Fewer Americans aged 18 to 29 worked full time for an employer in June 2013 (43.6%) than did so in June 2012 (47%), according to Gallup’s Payroll to Population employment rate. The P2P rate for young adults is also down from 45.8% in June 2011 and 46.3% in June 2010.

. . . Over the past year, P2P has been essentially unchanged, suggesting that the availability of full-time jobs has barely been able to keep up with overall population growth. This has had a disproportionately negative impact on millions of younger Americans who are unable to get full-time work.”

The lack of work is causing ripple effects throughout the economy that will be felt for years to come. For instance, a recent study found that 120,000 people who obtained bachelor’s degrees last year took jobs in sectors other than that which they preferred. If you’re trying to work out the math, that’s one business major every five minutes taking a job as a bartender. Those jobs, many of which are part time, pay lower wages, have fewer, if any benefits, and don’t help young adults develop the kind of skills necessary to jump back into their preferred field.

The low wages also serve as an impediment to making investments like purchasing a home or buying a car, engaging in big life decisions like getting married or starting a family, and paying back debts, namely student loans. As a result, student loan balances are soaring under the weight of building interest, and defaults are rising as overburdened graduates search for work in vain.

This is the economic landscape as many young adults see it. Smaller dreams and bigger debts. President Obama has promised to provide new ideas to the economic crisis on his cross country jobs tour. Thus far, we’ve been unimpressed. His earlier call for ideas that “excite” him seems to have devolved into the same-old, same-old talking points about “investing” in green energy and creating an infrastructure bank.

Young adults deserve better. They are owed some ideas that help restore the economy to a place where they can get back to work. They deserve to be atop the to-do list.