Candidates running for president should take the following warning seriously: Years of bad government policies catering to interest groups have created a generation of young people facing tremendous challenges in the labor market and little chance to experience the good old American dream. We can hope that someone will put this government-created generation of disinherited at the center of his or her platform.
The challenge faced by young Americans and the root cause of their tragic situation are perfectly described in a recent book by two scholars at the Manhattan Institute, Diana Furchtgott-Roth and Jared Meyer, called Disinherited: How Washington Is Betraying America's Young. If you aren't convinced that millennials, unlike past generations, are in a bad way, they have a few facts for you.
Recessions are always hard on younger Americans, but the Great Recession was particularly rough because the recovery has been so slow. First, six years into the economic recovery, the unemployment rate for people ages 20 to 24 is 9.9 percent. That's twice the rate for those 25 or older. But that's nothing compared with the unemployment rate of 18.1 percent faced by teenagers. The rate for African-American teens is 31.8 percent.
As a result, the labor force participation of teens and other young people has dropped to 55 percent—its lowest level since the government began tracking it in 1948. It has forced this generation to delay important milestones, such as moving out of their parents' home, getting married and starting a family.
The authors identify multiple ways in which government policies at the state and federal levels prevent young people from entering the labor market. Occupational licensing requirements, for instance, protect existing businesses against new competition at the expense of consumers but also entrepreneurs and young workers. As Furchtgott-Roth and Meyer write, "they make many promising career paths prohibitively expensive or time-consuming to enter."
Minimum wage laws are also to blame for a lack of jobs for young Americans. These laws "make it more difficult for the young and low-skilled to acquire valuable work experience." And because the Labor Department has practically banned unpaid internships at for-profit companies in several industries, the ability to get an entry-level position in these companies is highly reduced.
That's on top of a K-12 educational system that keeps young people ill-educated, thanks to—among other things—some unqualified, union-protected teachers who have little incentive to improve and face no risk of being fired. Government policies also make things worse for those going to college. Federal student aid raises the cost of college tuition, so students are forced to take on debt that will burden them well after they graduate as they face lower prospects for finding a job.
But this is nothing compared with the tragedy looming in their future. In order to pay for insolvent government programs, such as Medicare and Social Security, which largely benefit older and richer Americans, millennials will face higher taxes and lower standards of living. The shocking expansion of entitlement programs and the current unwillingness of most lawmakers to reform them best explain seniors' massive electoral power. But it remains that this is stealing from the young to enrich the old.
Furchtgott-Roth and Meyer add that the hike in health insurance premiums because of the Affordable Care Act was more drastic for young Americans than for middle-aged and older people. Young, healthy Americans are, in effect, shouldering more of the burden of paying for the health care of older and sicker Americans.
When I asked Meyer about the one message he hopes presidential candidates take away from their book, he said, "America's elected leaders need to realize that leaving an entire generation behind by saddling them with unsustainable levels of debt, poor educations and barriers to work is antithetical to fairness and no way to make social or economic progress." And like many of us, he hopes the day will come when "politicians will finally stand up to the influence of the AARP and other entrenched interests in order to restore opportunity to millennials."