The Youth Vote Gap
It may be hard for primary-fatigued political junkies to believe, but the excitement of this primary season has actually been lost on some voters, specifically, the 45 percent of young people with no college experience. Those are the findings of a study released by CIRCLE in February which found that young people who had gone to college were more than three times as likely to had cast a ballot on Super Tuesday: 25% to 7%.
But it’s the college have-nots who have the most at stake in this election, because they have lost the most ground in the generational economic backslide. Today, the typical young male worker with a high school diploma earns 29 percent less than his dad did 30 years ago. And despite the enormous financial gains won by the mass movement of women into the workplace, the typical young woman with a high school diploma earns 6 percent less than her mom did when she was a 20-something.
Young people who’ve never gone to college are now a minority among the under 30 population, making up 45 percent of young people. That’s good news in the sense that more young people are continuing their studies. But it’s bad news in the sense that their struggles are likely to get even less attention than the modest amount paid to this generation’s economic decline as a whole. Sixty-four percent of the young people who haven’t attended college are non-white. Their challenges and experiences are shaped by the nexus of race and class—and are compounded by the bad timing of birth. Today’s 20-somethings are coming of age in an era shaped by three decades of laissez faire economics and disinvestment in the public structures that help create opportunity and provide economic security, such as higher education and unemployment insurance. It has simply gotten harder for this generation to work their way into the middle class. And that isn’t the fault of globalization or technology—it’s the failure of public policy to invest in our future.
On May 8 and 9, hundreds of young people will assemble to begin the hard work of turning the country around and creating a new social compact. “A Better Deal: Reclaiming Economic Security for A New Generation” is a conference sponsored by Demos, along with nearly two dozen partner organizations. We will start building constituencies for ideas to benefit the college have-nots, including career ladder programs, green job training, child care supports and a Contract for College to end to the debt-for-diploma system that’s shutting out so many low-income students. We’re demanding that all the presidential candidates answer a series of questions about this generation’s economic crisis, and we’re making their answers public. Demos was founded on the belief that democracy and economic opportunity are inextricably linked. We’re hosting “A Better Deal” in part to help give today’s college have-nots a community, an agenda, and a reason to get involved.
Tamara Draut is the Director of the Economic Opportunity Program at Demos: A Network for Ideas & Action, and author of 'Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead'".