Like a Sirens song, his words swept the nation.
Young voters found themselves lured into the tantalizing trap of "hope and change" – ensnared in false expectations of wondrous deeds from a fresh and attractive leader.
The temptation was impossible to resist as Barack Obama unleashed his energetic ground troops. "Generation O" was on his side.
For Obama, they paved a path to victory, taking him to the White House.
"Generation O is that college kid at the White House gate early Wednesday morning, lifting his shirt to reveal 'Obama' painted in red on his chest," wrote The New York Times within mere days of Obama's elevation to president-elect status. "These young voters and those slightly older, who together may forever be known as Generation O, were the ground troops of the campaign."
Unfortunately for Obama's deluded, young supporters of 2008, four years later, their prospects for a better life are at best no greater than when the president first took office – if not worse.
When Vice-President Joe Biden let loose his Freudian slip that the middle class has been "buried the last four years," he probably didn't have college grads and undergrads in mind.
Yet, perhaps more than any other group in America today, what the media once labeled "Generation O" is now the "Second Lost Generation" – a generation saddled with more debt, plagued with fewer jobs, and stuck in their parents' bedrooms.
Indeed, my generation is faced with a crisis: as 53 percent of recent college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed and their cost for a college education has skyrocketed 25 percent in the last four years alone. This followed a decade of skyrocketing college costs, in which tuition shot up by more than 90 percent! From 1982 to 2007, the New York Times reports, "Published college tuition and fees increased 439 percent…while median family income rose 147 percent." That means the growth in college costs nearly tripled the growth in family income – all while inflation rose by just 106 percent.
The central thrust of getting a college education – the principle reason parents and students devote so much in time and financial resources to that degree – is to give young people a leg up, a foundation upon which to build a better, more prosperous life. But now that we're buried under Barack's destructive policies of debt and despair, tax and spend, a college education is no longer enough to give us a shovel with which to dig ourselves out of the hole he's put us in.
The college cost conundrum is a leading example of a generation in decline and a prime public policy failure of government. Our government has understandably concluded that the ability to move forward economically and to prosper as a nation in the 21st century depends greatly upon the education of its people.
Recognizing problem and need, the feds have tried to help "make college more affordable" for the average citizen by devoting significant taxpayer resources to divvying out subsidized loans, such as the Federal Direct Loan, and grants, like the Pell Grant, and by nationalizing the student loan industry in Obamacare. One would think that the effective cost of college would go down, right?
But for some reason, despite the huge uptick in financial aid available to students, the cost of college has continued to rise each year.
Part of the increase is obviously the result of the cost of doing business. As technology continually advances, the cost of educational tools persistently goes up. Likewise, spikes in inflation, rises in the cost of living, expansions of campus safety programs and growth in the cost of student services, like healthcare and computer printing, stimulate greater spending. And, as schools continue to age, the expenses associated with maintaining older buildings, including renovations, have risen and will continue to rise. Because of the increase in the costs of inputs that go into providing the service, colleges have seen fit to hike tuition.
If this were any other product in a private market, a boost in price would discourage consumers from buying. Yet, despite dramatic price increases, the number of students demanding a college education has also gone up over the last few decades due to increased social pressure to get a college education and ready access to Uncle Sam's monopoly money. Unfortunately, college isn't immune to market pressures. Because demand keeps going up and supply is failing to keep pace, the price of education has skyrocketed.
While some may be discouraged from going to college because of the increased expense, the added influence of federal aid well surpasses any potential disincentives.
This makes sense. If I'm separated from the cost and someone else is doing the paying, I'm going to feel empowered to buy more of it, whatever "it" is, as I've got less incentive to look for an alternative. After all, if someone else is paying for it, why should I care? And from the colleges' perspective, with all the free money out there, why not jack up prices?
Consequently, college tuition spikes outpace inflation. This has happened despite the increase in available financial aid, which is intended to make school more affordable. It seems that the more government does to "make college affordable," as Obama says we should do, the more costly it becomes. This inevitably hurts those unable to meet the needs-based requirements of many financial aid awards and therefore they find themselves taking out still more loans from private sources.
In fact, The Huffington Post reports that more than 37 million Americans "owe student debt, and a majority of students take on loans to attend college. It surpasses all other forms of consumer debt, topping $1 trillion, and cannot be discharged in bankruptcy."
If government aid to students hasn't helped – and has in fact made the situation worse – what, then, should we be looking at? There are three public policy shovels that must be pulled out of Uncle Sam's shed.
Governor Mitt Romney has described the first: economic growth. "I'm not going to promise all sorts of free stuff that I know you're going to end up paying for. What I want to do is give you a great job so you'll be able to pay [student loans] back yourself. And I want to get the government off your back, so you can keep more of what you earned."
In short, we must slash the tax and regulatory burdens of government and open the door to economic opportunity for young people across America so that they can take responsibility for their own education.
Second, we must cut back on, and halt the expansion of, government-subsidized grant and loan programs to students. This sounds like a nasty thing to do, but we've got no choice other than cutting off the spigot in order to force students, parents, and colleges alike to make more sensible financial decisions.
Third, students should be encouraged to look to community colleges as an alternative to full, four-year colleges. States like Colorado, and the feds if they get involved, should focus on campaigns to spread awareness to students about how they can save a boatload of money by completing their core requirements or their first two years at a community college before applying to a state or private university. We should stop talking down community colleges and start praising them as rational, low-cost options for students to take personal responsibility for their own, quality education while taking out fewer loans or charging more to the federal credit card.
These solutions may seem counterintuitive in a day and age of government goody-bags, deficit spending, and dog-eat-dog college credentials. But, they are essential to long-term viability for millions of students who will one day become graduates and, with a little hard work, successful individuals.
Fortunately, we have a clear choice this November – one which has the potential to open the door to sensible reforms to Obama's trickle-down government failures, like the student loan crisis.
In 2008, the media heralded the rise of Generation O: idealistic, young voters who looked to Barack Obama for salvation and who were instrumental in his victory.
Now, after four years of being buried under Barack, the Second Lost Generation is still looking for a shovel.
That is why I have joined forces with other college students, recent graduates, and Congressman Cory Gardner in saying NO to trickle-down government and YES to the proven path of free markets and personal responsibility at the Securing Our American Dream Rally on Saturday, October 20.
The pre-election event, to take place on the west steps of the Colorado State Capitol, will feature speakers under the age of 25 who are concerned about President Obama's inability to secure the American Dream for future generations. The Securing Our American Dream Rally will occur from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Details are available online at SengCenter.com. All ages are welcome, but we especially encourage you to bring at least one young person you know!
Jimmy Sengenberger is a devout constitutional conservative who leans libertarian on most economic issues but solidly conservative on national security matters. Jimmy is the youngest talk radio personality in Colorado.