Talking economy with students

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CHICAGO — Last month 80,000 jobs were lost throughout the country and the unemployment rate jumped from 4.8 to 5.1 percent. It was the third consecutive month of job loss. The private sector alone lost 98,000 jobs in March, the fourth consecutive decline. The number of unemployed people in the U.S. grew by 434,000 to 7.8 million.

Construction and manufacturing jobs continue to be the hardest hit, shedding 51,000 and 48,000 jobs, respectively. The retail sector has lost 100,000 jobs since last November. There is no doubt that the U.S. economy is in a recession, with the private sector now losing jobs at a rate that may exceed 100,000 per month. With real wages declining, and the plunge in house prices destroying home equity at a more than $2.5 trillion annual rate, it is likely that the rate of job loss will accelerate in the months ahead, analysts say.

To better understand what young people think about the current state of the economy, this reporter visited the University of Illinois at Chicago campus to talk with students.

“I feel like we’re on the edge of a recession,” said Aly Torres, 20, a junior originally from Peru who is studying anthropology. “People’s needs are up, including gas prices, food, home heating and electricity rates, not to mention the rising unemployment numbers,” she said. “People’s salaries are not up to par with the inflation rate and the Iraq war is a huge problem for the economy.” The war has a lot to do with our economic crisis, said Torres.

College tuition rates are high and interests rates on student loans are ridiculous, Torres added. “There should be a federal program to help students afford an education. We should be viewed as an investment, not as a financial hassle.”

Torres is a Barack Obama supporter and hopes if he or Hillary Clinton wins the presidential elections in November, the Iraq war will come to an end and that money could be used for people’s needs here at home.

Trent Thompson is a 23-year-old African American graduate student studying art and web design. “The economy definitely affects us and it’s a big deal,” he said. Thompson said he is concerned about his financial future, especially putting down a mortgage on a home. “As grad students we’re going to have to get out there and get jobs that may not exist — then what?” he said.

Thompson feels the economy is partly the fault of voters, “because we don’t elect the right kind of people to do the right kind of things for us.” He added, “And the war, it’s stupid and hasn’t been helping anybody. How much money has been put toward the Iraq war and for what?” he asked. “Bush, Halliburton and Cheney just want to make money there.

“Obama is a young fresh face and with his presentation he appeals to young people,” Thompson said. “Obama is like, ‘I feel you and know where you’re coming from.’”

“No matter who wins, Clinton or Obama, they will be a great improvement,” Thompson said. “As long as McCain doesn’t win,” he added.

The elections are very important and we have to be aware of who we are voting for, said Sergio Nieves, a 21-year-old urban planning and public affairs major who noted that the economy also affects undocumented workers and their families. “I’m pro-immigrant-rights, and there should be some sort of legal amnesty for undocumented workers,” he said. “Too many undocumented workers and their families don’t get a fair chance.” Nieves said some elected officials may think of immigration as a taboo subject but Congress needs to step up on this issue, including Obama and Clinton.

One 30-year-old graduate architecture student, who is white, said, “The U.S. economy does concern me but we have to deal with it in a more socio-economic way.” The student, who did not want her name published, said, “It’s a class-structured problem.” She pointed out, “The upper level people who have billions of dollars are running the show, and that’s the problem. And the tax system is all messed up too.

“People need to start paying more attention to the environment and climate change,” she said. “We need to take this problem seriously. This has everything to do with our economy and the future generations of young people.”

plozano@pww.org