Today’s young people, the so-called “Lost Generation,” are going to be just fine, says President Barack Obama – but only if the progressive reforms made in the past two years are defended from the Republicans and expanded upon.
The president laid out his thinking on September 27, during a national teleconference specifically aimed to give college journalists time to question the president.
“The key is for us to keep on improving the economy. That’s going to be my number one priority over the next few years,” Obama told the young journalists. “If we’re building infrastructure, not just roads and bridges, but also broadband lines, investing in clean energy: all those things are going to open up new opportunity for young people with skills and talent for the future.”
“Don’t let anyone tell you that somehow your dreams are going to be constrained going forward,” Obama said.
The president argued that his administration had already done a great deal to better students’ lot. The health care reform, Obama noted, mandated that insurers provide coverage for dependent youth up through the age of 26, which will “provide cushion” for young people just out of college.
Obama and the Democrats also reworked the rules on financial aid. Going forward, no one will have to pay more than ten percent of their monthly salary to their student debt and, for those who go into public service, any outstanding loans will be forgiven ten years after graduation.
The federal government, Obama reminded collegiate journalists, will now lend directly to students, “instead of handing over $60 billion in unwarranted subsidies to big banks.”
The money saved through the loan reform will be redirected to two-year colleges, which the president argued are essential in preparing young people for the workforce. Obama announced an upcoming White House summit on community colleges.
Still, high dropout rates remain a problem. “More than one third of all students, and more than half of our minority students, don’t earn a degree, even after six years, and that’s a waste of potential,” noted the president.
While it’s up to students and their families to complete college, Obama said, the federal government should work to help remove obstacles. He went on to announce the creation of a college access completion fund and the new “post 9/11 G.I. bill.”
Republicans successfully scuttled the DREAM Act – but only for now, says Obama. “This is important legislation that will stop punishing young people whose parents brought them here. They may not have been documented, but for all intents and purposes, they’ve grown up as American young people. … The country they’ve grown up in and love as their own.”
While Obama clearly relished noting the progress that has been made, he sounded a note of warning, saying that much would be lost if the Republicans were to seize control in November.
The president acknowledged that there is not nearly as much excitement during the midterm elections as there was during his 2008 presidential campaign. He attributed this to the fact that change for the better hasn’t come as fast as people who support him would have hoped and constant fighting in the nation’s capital.
“I’ve been having all these fights with the Republicans to make progress on a whole bunch of these issues,” the president said. “And during that time, naturally, some of the excitement and enthusiasm started to drain away, because people felt like, ‘Gosh, all we’re reading about is arguments in Washington.'”
Obama explained the fighting, saying that “to bring about big changes, for example, in our energy policy, we’ve taken on a lot of special interests: the oil companies, utilities. Some of them may not want to see the kind of changes that would lead to a strong green economy. The point is, though, you can’t sit it out.”
The upcoming elections, he said, are a “big choice,” adding that “you’ve got a situation right now where the Republicans put out their ‘Pledge to America’ that says we’re going to give $4 trillion worth of tax breaks, $700 billion of those going to millionaires and billionaires, each of whom get on average a $100,000 check.”
To pay for even part of that, the president said, the Republicans want “cut all of the improvements that we just talked about.” Young people should take note, he continued, because “even though this may not be as exciting as a presidential election, it’s going to make a huge difference in terms of whether we’re going to move our agenda forward over the next couple of years.”
When a reporter from the Badger Herald asked him why he was coming to her school in Madison, Obama said that he wanted to take his message on the importance of the upcoming elections to young people – and that he loves Madison because, during his college years, “I used to drive up there and have fun times, which I can’t discuss in detail with you.”