Economic worries weigh on the young


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    Courtney Houston was president of the Tufts Democrats at Tufts University until he graduated this past spring. He's done a lot of work for Senator Edward Kennedy.

    - Sean Cole / Marketplace

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    John Della Volpe is director of polling at Harvard University's Institute of Politics.

    - Sean Cole / Marketplace

John Della Volpe is director of polling at Harvard University's Institute of Politics.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: Thanks to the miracle of compound interest, that $700 billion we're collectively going to have to borrow to bail out the global economy could wind up being a whole lot more. If that happens, it's going to handcuff what the country will be able to do in the future, beyond even what Robert Shapiro was just talking about.

Most of us aren't going to be around to pay the bills and see the long-term impact. But kids graduating from college this year might. At the same time they're entering the "real world," the class of 2008 will also be heading to the polls this November. Some of them for the first time.

And in the first installment of our election series, "Interested Parties," we wanted to find out what recent graduates and current students want from the next administration.

We sent Marketplace's Sean Cole to ask around.


SEAN COLE: So no radio story about recently graduated seniors would be complete without this music . . .["Pomp and Circumstance"]

And maybe some pearl of wisdom from a commencement speaker, like "Today Show" host Meredith Viera.

MEREDITH VIERA: I've interviewed presidents and I've interviewed poor people just trying to make it. I actually prefer the latter group, to be honest with you.

Which is apropos considering that a lot of these kids are asking themselves, "Which presidential candidate is going to keep me from becoming a poor person?"

RAHUL CHANDIOK: The job hunt hasn't been as successful as I had hoped.

SARAH GARTON: I have been taking those jobs that, um, that don't really pay you.

COLE: When do you finish?

DAVID ANDERSON: Ideally August.

COLE: And then what?

DAVID: Um, then I hope to start working and making money.

JOHN DELLA VOLPE: That's only one of their economic concerns heading towards this election year.

John Della Volpe is the director of polling at the Harvard Institute of Politics. He's citing a bi-annual survey of more than 2,000 18-to-24 year olds. Half of them are in four-year colleges and universities. The other half is a mishmash -- graduates, high schoolers. And right before commencement this past spring...

DELLA VOLPE: The issue of the economy was the number one concern among young people. This is the first time in the last five years that we've done our survey that an issue other than Iraq was number one.

Partly because young people are starting to think of every issue as an economic issue, including the war. Right young people?

SARAH: Definitely.

DAVID: Absolutely.

SHAUN: I mean, everything boils down to being an economic issue.

DELLA VOLPE: They certainly look at our energy and environemental policy as an economic issue. They even look at health care as an economic issue.

Not to mention Social Security, which allof the young people I spoke with had something to say about.

RAHUL: Yeah, when I'm older, I definitely expect the government to take care of me.

Rahul Chandiok is 21. Finishing up his bachelor's degree in business administration at the University of Southern California. He says Social Security better be around when he's older.

RAHUL: Because, I mean, otherwise, it's like why don't I just take that money and invest it in, like, a pension fund or something.

COLE: Which I think is what Bush has been saying. Like, maybe we should all just invest it, instead.

RAHUL: The thing with that, though, is like I feel like in order to get a good long-term return from one of those funds you kinda have to be somewhat educated in that field. And, you know, I mean, like I've taken one course in investments and that barely scratched the surface.

Whereas Sarah Garton feels like she just doesn't know enough about Social Security in general.

SARAH: The way that I've looked at it since I got my first job when I was like 16 was just like, Oh, there's that extra 10 bucks that I didn't get -- You know, that I can't, like, buy pizza with.

Sarah just graduated from Boston University with a cultural anthropology degree. She's from Texas but stuck around the area for the summer, working a temporary job for 14 bucks an hour. Her thoughts on the topic at hand are, in short, Social Security schmocial security.

SARAH: I guess I don't really trust it. I'm not counting on it by any means. I don't think I can count on anything, so . . .

COLE: On anything? That's very nihilistic.

SARAH: Uh-oh. But I'm an idealist. I believe in the good of people. Anything that the government is promising me I don't think I can count on.

Besides, Sarah's more concerned with the here and now. Her college health care and housing both ran out this month so she had to find an affordable insurance plan -- and a new apartment which she's trying to figure out how to pay for. Sound familiar?

Again John Della Volpe.

DELLA VOLPE: These issues are kind of intertwined and they affect people in their 20s just as much, if not more, than people in their 40s, 50s and 60s.

DAVID: I had the fortune of working for Social Security last year, which was kind of an eye-opening job to have.

David Anderson is a grad student in political science at the University of New Hampshire. You heard him laughing before.

He says Social Security is not the inefficient, wasteful bureaucracy it's thought to be. In fact, he says, it's too efficient.

DAVID: It's become so tight-pocketed to avoid the fraud that the people who really need it aren't even getting it.

COLE: And that's what you'd like to see change.

DAVID: Yeah, I would like to see that change. Personally, I have a heart murmur which shouldn't effect me, at least until I'm into my old age. But it's kind of that knowledge that at some point something could happen completely out of my control.

At 29, David's a little older than the demographic we've been talking about so far. But he still fits into that under-30 set that could really drive this upcoming election.

John Della Volpe told me that in the 2004 election voters under 30 outnumbered those over 65 by a million.

In Boston, I'm Sean Cole for Marketplace.

John Della Volpe is director of polling at Harvard University's Institute of Politics.

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