President Obama has been visiting college campuses telling young people to vote for him because he’ll give them something. For this particular audience, the giveaway is lower college loan repayments.
It says something alarming about the future of America that our young people are already so deeply in debt this stage of their lives that this could be a promising pitch for the president. It also says something alarming about the president that he doesn't know what young people really need: jobs.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal this morning, Andrew Biggs explains why the president has it all wrong:
[T]hese same young Americans may suffer most from the administration's inability to get the economy back on its feet. College graduates who enter the workforce during an economic downturn accept lower wages in lower-quality jobs, and the effects on their income and promotions can last for well over a decade.
All workers face wage cuts and job losses during a recession, when the supply of labor outstrips demand. But in this recession, new college graduates have been particularly hard hit. According to an analysis by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, 54% of bachelor's degree-holders under age 25, about 1.5 million in total, were jobless or underemployed last year.
The president’s promise is to keep rates on government-issued loans at 3.4 rather than letting them revert to their previous 6.8. Biggs writes:
Some perspective is in order. The lower interest rate would apply only to government-subsidized Stafford loans, far less than half the total amount of college loans. And the average monthly payment would be reduced by about $7, according to calculations by economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office.
More important, lower payments on college loans after graduation won't come close to repairing the long-term economic damage that new graduates will suffer as a result of entering the workforce during a downturn.
For most workers, the negative effects of a recession fade fairly quickly as the economy recovers, but research shows that the impact can last far longer for young workers. A 2006 study by University of Toronto Prof. Philip Oreopoulos and his co-authors found that Canadians entering the labor market during a typical recession had their initial earnings reduced by 9%. It took a decade for wages to return to normal levels earned by young workers entering the workforce in a non-recessionary economy.
For President Obama, of course, the solution to every problem is a government solution. Can't find a job? Well, we'll just extend unemployment benefits. Karin Agness deals with this today in a great post on the Obama campaign’s recently-released infographic on The Life of Julia, detailing how the administration’s policies have helped a composite called Julia from the age of 3 to 67. (The title has a slight Monty Python ring, no?) Karin writes:
In Julia's life, government is the solution–providing tax credits, student loans, health care and more.
With the college loan problem, I think that there is another problem: Why are students obligating themselves for an onerous burden at such an early point in their lives? Is this really a good choice?
In a piece on Obama and college loans, Mollie Hemingway recently observed:
I chose a less expensive college than some of the ones I got into and I worked full-time to put myself through school without any debt.
Please tell me more about how Obama and Romney want me to subsidize those who made different choices.
Why aren’t students going to colleges they can afford by working their way through with part-time or full-time jobs? More pertinent, do such affordable colleges even exist today? If not, why? (The government’s willingness to step in is likely to be one reason for the high cost of college.)