By James McKitrick
2:42 PM EDT, July 23, 2013
While the tentacles of Washington dysfunction reach all national demographics, one often overlooked group is our young adults — affectionately termed the "Millennials."
Obvious evidence of this has been Congress' inability to thus far keep interest rates on student loans from rising sharply down the road. However, if one digs deeper, it becomes clear this is merely a symptom of a much larger disease.
The sickness? A burden of our nation's mounting and unsustainable debt. Despite some recent progress and countless proclamations of sufficient remedies, it is still on an upward and alarming trajectory relative to the size of the economy. Rosier than expected near-term projections do not change the fact that rising health care costs, an aging population, Social Security's looming insolvency, and ever-increasing interest payments will greatly expand the national debt as a share of the economy starting at the end of the current decade.
In fact, under realistic projections from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the debt will rise from 73 percent of gross domestic product today to nearly 79 percent in 2023 and ever-rising levels thereafter.
The debt — costing the U.S. more than $220 billion in interest payments in 2012 — and its various consequences create immense uncertainty that discourages businesses from investing or hiring new workers and prevents young Millennials from advancing their careers. This why I traveled earlier this month to Washington, D.C. as a member of The Can Kicks Back, Millennial outreach partner of the Campaign to Fix The Debt, to meet with members of the Maryland congressional delegation.
I sincerely hope that Democratic Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Elijah Cummings took heed when I reminded them Millennials are suffering from an 11.1 percent unemployment rate, an average of $26,000 in student loan debt, lower wages and underdeveloped savings.
Almost two-thirds of real lifetime wage growth typically occurs in the first 10 years of a career. Many young adults will not see the wage growth they would have expected, and as a result, many my age are forgoing large purchases such as homes and cars.
Furthermore, the insolvency of the nation's social insurance programs threatens the safety net guaranteed to all Americans. The results: Payable benefits will fall short of those currently promised, hampering saving and retirement decisions. By the time many Millennials become eligible for Social Security and Medicare, these programs will have exhausted their trust funds — Social Security by 2033 and Medicare by 2024 — with a sharp reduction in payable benefits.
Despite ambivalent attitudes toward "narcissistic" and "politically apathetic" young voters, considerable portions of my peers are well aware of this situation. According to the Pew Research Center, more than half (52 percent) of young adults ages 18 to 29 say that keeping Medicare and Social Security benefits at their current levels will place too much of a financial burden on younger generations. Moreover, Harvard University recently conducted polling that found Millennials view deficit reduction as one of top issues facing America today.
Luckily, we know targeted reforms such as comprehensive tax reform and chained CPI can improve these programs, ensure long-term solvency and slowly phase in changes to allow Millennials to prepare and save accordingly. Congressmen Van Hollen and Cummings and their colleagues must implement a generationally balanced deficit reduction package that tackles the hard choices required. Doing so would strengthen the foundation of our economy and provide Millennials with the resources we need to contribute to society for generations to come.
Here's hoping they listened, because America's youth are here, ready to contribute.
James McKitrick, an Ellicott City resident, is a political activist and a member of The Can Kicks Back, Millennial outreach partner of The Campaign to Fix The Debt. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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