Young People Turned Out to Re-Elect President Obama. Now What?

By / 11.8.2012

They defied the pundits: young people turned out to vote in numbers that rivaled their 2008 record. An estimated 23 million young people age 18-29 voted, even more than the highly coveted 65 and over cohort. And not surprisingly, for reasons I’ve previously pointed out, young people overwhelmingly supported President Obama by a margin of 60-40.

But President Obama’s work has really just begun. Now that TV advertising has returned to normal, young people are eager to know what’s next, what President Obama is going to do to help them get more jobs and more money.

Young people are struggling: they’ve had a worse recession and recovery than any other age group. The 18-34 year old cohort is still over 2 million jobs short since the recession began and real earnings continue to fall. But helping young people means understanding why they have been hit so hard in the first place relative to other age groups, why they weren’t the first to be re-hired as common theory dictates, and why the youngest and least educated are being squeezed out of the labor force.

That means targeting policies to help young people adapt to the economic challenges they face. Factors like globalization, the drop in construction activity, and older people working longer are cutting jobs young people would have filled. And on the flip-side, young workers are not adequately prepared for today’s high-skill, high-wage jobs in areas like biotechnology and big data analysis.

The best set of policies will address both sides of the equation and actively engage millennials. For example, give tax incentives to companies engaging in public-private partnerships for current students and alumni, and increase public investment in infrastructure. Encourage proactive career guidance in high-school, cap increases in college tuition, and relieve student debt obligations for young people who pursue graduate studies or major in STEM. Such policies will give young people a new way forward as they enter their prime earning years.

President Obama should take the renewed trust of young people seriously, and realize that keeping their trust will take more than a liberal stance on social issues. Young people are a force to be reckoned with – estimates from CIRCLE, a youth research organization, show the influence of young people in the swing states of Ohio, Virginia, and Florida are what swung the election in Obama’s favor. We know now what happens when you ignore young people like Mitt Romney did. What happens when you can’t find the time to sit down with MTV for 30 minutes, go on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, or tell US Weekly “25 Things You Don’t Know About Me.”

The election message from young people to the president was very clear: we will not be ignored. President Obama’s actions over the next four years will be critical for the entire millennial generation. And candidates for 2016 should be watching closely.