Saturday, July 16, 2011

Why don't politicans pay more attention to the youth employment crisis?

A good reminder from the always perceptive Ezra Klein of the inexorable link between money and influence in the US political system.

Pondering Washington's paralysis in the face of widespread and persistent unemployment -- 15 million people unemployed, and more than 20 million underemployed -- Klein's recent piece in the Washington Post looks at various explanations for the inaction of policy makers.  Ultimately, he muses, "I’m sure all of these theories are at least partially right. But they’re missing the big one that has the best evidence behind it: The unemployed don’t have very much money. And it’s money that gets the political system interested in your agenda."

Klein cites an analysis of 30 years of polling data that traced the connection between popular support for a policy change, and the likelihood that the change was actually put into place.  Not surprisingly, the study found that the preferences of the poor rarely motivate political action, whereas strong support for a proposal among the rich often led to its enactment.

Stuck at the bottom of today's labor ladder, unemployment hits poorly educated young people the hardest.  Given that disconnected young people in particular rarely contribute significant funds to political causes and vote in much lower numbers than other groups -- only around a quarter of eligible high school dropouts aged 18-24 voted during the 2008 presidential election -- politicians feel little pressure to address youth issues.  (It's a "chicken or egg" situation, of course.  With little discussion of their concerns, many young people see their participation in the political system a waste of time.) 

As Kline notes, "If 15 million college-educated professionals were unemployed right now, the political system would care."

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