Upon hearing that "midterms" are coming up, many voters ages 18-29 still get that queasy feeling that comes with the thought of taking intense exams. I know I do. Perhaps that is one reason we rarely show up for midterm elections.
Recent polling suggests that there could be a reduction of more than 40 percent in young voter turnout this year, compared to 2008. But the stakes are high this year, and young people need to show their strength again at the polls or risk losing accurate representation and movement on policy that directly affects them and the issues they care most about.
Let's face it: Young voters have more free time to get out to the polls this year — because so many of us are unemployed.
Nearly 20 percent of people ages 16 to 24 are unemployed. Students and nonstudents are competing more than ever for unpaid and underpaid internship positions. Lower-income students are even more disadvantaged because they simply cannot afford to work full time without compensation, regardless of the invaluable skills and tools they would receive from participating in these internships. They are being cut off from these entryways into many career opportunities in the public and private sectors that result from experience and contacts gained through internships during or after college.
High youth unemployment is even more devastating when combined with the mounting student debt our generation finds itself suffocating beneath. According to USA Today, students are leaving college with an average of $19,000 in student-loan debt. Nellie Mae reports that 78 percent of college students have at least one credit card and 32 percent of college students have four credit cards. This debt and unemployment duo makes for a dim outlook on our future. It is vital that we take advantage of our rights and vote for candidates we feel can bring back jobs.
When young people show up to vote, we make valuable contributions. We represent 20 percent of the electorate, but our voices can only be heard if we raise them. Since our mega-turnout in 2008, we have seen financial reform, health care and health insurance reforms; we've seen the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act signed into law and federal stimulus money help break the fall for the thousands of people affected by the economic downturns in this country.
Everyone who voted in 2008 should feel at least a small connection with these accomplishments, and especially youth voters, because they turned out in record numbers and became a true part of history by their unprecedented volunteering and involvement in the campaigns.
Our generation is being charged with a lack of interest in this year's elections. I can't help but continue to have faith in my peers — that we are not as naïve as the pundits are portraying us. That we understand major policy changes take time, sometimes years of it.
Of course, there are still several issues we want to see addressed, and fast. But that sense of urgency is just another reason we should show up at the polls in November. With blogs, e-mail, texting, podcasts, Twitter, Facebook and all of the other ways to stay connected with each other and keep track of issues that we care about, it's not hard to see why younger voters are frustrated. We have grown accustomed to getting what we want with the click of a mouse, the push of a button, the swipe of a credit card, and our patience is shorter because of it. Our desire to make change and make it now is stronger because of it.
We would do ourselves a great service to remember that the answers to fixing the economy are not found in a Google search. International policy, job creation and preserving the environment cannot be solved in a mouse click.
We've endured difficult midterm exams throughout our lives as students; this November, we will be put to the test once again. With youth unemployment on the rise and student debt climbing to record highs, these midterms are clearly worth more than a grade.
Kara van Stralen, 22, of Bethesda is working towards her M.A. in Legislative Affairs at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.