How the Federal Government Betrayed Millennials

Bad economic policies hurt young Americans the most.



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."

NEXT: More Than 3,500 Detained in Chicago. Only Three Got Lawyers. What the Hell?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. We can hope that someone will put this government-created generation of disinherited at the center of his or her platform.

    If millennials actually went to the polls as reliably as the elderly, candidates might try giving their terrible economic prospects even some empty lip service. If the youth had lobbyists or PAC’s to make it rain for campaigns, maybe you would hear these things addressed. As it is, what possible incentive would anyone have to talk about reversing minimum wage laws or repealing occupational licensing scams or allowing unpaid internships?

    1. Its my (millennial) generation that is protesting for higher minimum wages..

      1. No, it’s the same of leftist bullshit repackaged to look like it represents Millenials as a whole. Have none of you learned that politicians rarely, if ever, getting a full generations support? You fools make it sound like every Millenial is a bought and paid for Democrat when polls consistently show we have the most Independents and Libertarians in our generation than ever in American history. The Founding Fathers hated political parties or what they called “Factions” by the way.

    2. As a millennial, I’ve seen a huge portion of my peers lose all faith in the voting process. On top of that, I’ve encountered a huge number of people who form their political opinions based exclusively from BuzzFeed articles.
      BuzzFeed is a hugely entertaining website from learning how to make a badass grilled cheese, but that’s about as far as it should be respected.
      It is what it is.

    3. We turned out at almost 60% rate to vote in 2008. Obama got our attention. Republicans write us off because they forget the Boomers will die off soon and it will be us who take their places. Look around you at all the businesses clearly targeting Millenials. Do you think that’s because they’re trying to be nice? We make up a large and profitable share of the market now and it will only get bigger. Virtually any businesses, politicians, or average Joes even trying to stay relevant for that matter, are figuring that out. Dems really are ahead of Repubs with my generation it is because they have chosen to at least give some lip service to the issues we care about. All the Reuplicans want to do is call us names while blaming us for problems prior generations created or flat out ignore us. I voted for Ron Paul and Gary Johnson by the way.

  2. And Reefer Madness hurts too !! Big government is harsh

  3. Millennials voted for Obama and they got his policies. Maybe the cure for their ills is to raise the voting age to 35.

    1. Obama was sooooooo dreamy, the other guy was not, think the correct choice was made, now, where are my skinny jeans ?

    2. Not all of us. And team red has been pretty good about fucking the youth as well, so the 2008 election would have been bad no matter what. I remember telling some of my friends back around that election that they’d get exactly what they were asking for, but that I just wished I didn’t have to get it too.

      The only age group that McCain won in 2008 was the 65+ crowd, by the way.

      1. Dipshit McCain was clearly not the answer. Bob Barr was hardly the perfect candidate but he would have been much better than either of those.

    3. Maybe the cure for their ills is to raise the voting age to 35. So they can vote for Bush, McCain, or Romney?

      1. Obamacare sure helped.

        1. Obamacare, the stimulus package, TARP, No Child Left Behind, Sarbanes-Oxley all suck. I don’t see how barring Millenials from voting when they’re young would solve any problem as OP suggested. Did OP think Millenials would come around and vote Libertarian by age 35? Or does OP think voting Republican in general is really a good thing to do?

          1. and was voting for a blatant socialist better than voting for a do-nothing RINO republican?

            Considering the damage that Obama and the Democrats have done in the past 8 years how in the world could you actually vote for them.
            Don’t tell me that you didn’t know that Obama was going to do all of this, he told us before he was elected that he was going to fundamentally change the country – and what does a Democrat want to change the country into – a socialist country!

            1. I didn’t vote for Obama, and I was never inclined to in any way. Read again.

              and was voting for a blatant socialist better than voting for a do-nothing RINO republican?

              They are both basically equally bad in my opinion. A do-nothing RINO, does plenty of bad things, a few of which I mentioned in my post.

              1. And yet you could only identify republicans in your list.

                1. Hence my response to you, Skippy: “Obamacare, the stimulus package, TARP, No Child Left Behind, Sarbanes-Oxley all suck. I don’t see how barring Millenials from voting when they’re young would solve any problem as OP suggested. Did OP think Millenials would come around and vote Libertarian by age 35? Or does OP think voting Republican in general is really a good thing to do?”

                  I can’t understand how that first sentence didn’t clear things up.

    4. I’m sorry McCain would have been an even worse train wreck and both parties actively discredited and avoid talking about ANY third party candidate, much less being allowed to see them debate. Kinda hard to vote for somebody that is hidden from view. Out of sight, out of mind. “I guess I’ll just take the lesser of two evils, it’s all I can do to be a good American!” has been the driving thought behind our politics for quite a while now.

  4. One would hope they would grow tired of the system and turn it around, but they’ll just complain on social media.

    1. The same way in which libertarians are turning it around? Not as easy as it sounds unfortunately.

      1. At least “libertarians” (whatever the heck that means) are cognizant of the problem. They can’t make horses drink.

      2. People are far to comfortable to risk sudden societal upheavals, such as an armed overthrow of an increasingly oppressive government.

    2. …or just post comments on an online magazine.

    3. You realize Millenials are largely responsible for Rand Paul, Justin Amash, and Jarrod Pollis being in office, right? STFU if you can’t make semi-intelligent comments, at a minimum.

  5. The federal establishment betrays us all! Why single out “millennials” other than to do an article that may draw some readers?

    1. Because spechul snowflake!

  6. Well, for decades we’ve known there was going to be the terminal layer to the Ponzi schemes -who were going to get it dry, hard, and sideways. It was inevitable. We’ve just labeled that layer millennials, simply due to the apparent proximity to the year 2000/2001. The function of what is occurring was built into the system when people got payments from social security without having put anything in. Social Security, despite how it was sold, was a Ponzi scheme in its truest form, not an inaccurate epithet. Of course, SS wasn’t the only Ponzi, there are others, and they’re all beginning to run dry. The Boomers are likely to get all their payouts and its going to be a battle between Gen X’ers and millennials as to who is going to get how much of The Shaft. Since Gen X is just now fully taking over the Power Supply and the corner offices, I don’t think the millennials stand much of a chance. As a Gen X’er, I have little interest in bearing a share of the Ponzi scheme bust anymore than I likely already am. Really, what needs to happen, is Gen X and the millennials need to join forces and force the bearing of the wear out of the Ponzi schemes on Boomers to pay their own way, and steeply cut the transfer Ponzi schemes from recurring.

  7. Yes, but I’m interested in what millennials THINK about this issue. Someone should make a poll!

  8. There are programs out there that attempt to make an end run around the failing school systems.
    In Georgia, there is a program called MLET that organizes internships in the logistics industry for high school students.
    There are many more like all over the country but the key is private enterprise running the show and competing schools systems surrendering the control that the government bodies attempt to wield over the process. Private sector volunteers are making these programs happen with zero dollar budgets. The businesses are investing in these kids and the attempt is to help kids avoid compiling debt with limited prospects once they emerge from high dollar colleges.

    If these programs could continually be implemented all over the country, the individual industries benefit from a better labor force and the students are given opportunities to invest in their future. The economy improves in the process. This is one of the few angles left to change a few of the disastrous policies the government has imbedded in our society. Remember both sides of the aisle are content with big government policies. That is how they enrich themselves.…..-logistics

  9. “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.'”

    The people pushing the “living wage” crap have absolutely no understanding of this.

  10. Start making cash right now… Get more time with your family by doing jobs that only require for you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home. Start bringing up to $8596 a month. I’ve started this job and I’ve never been happier and now I am sharing it with you, so you can try it too. You can check it out here…

  11. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

  12. Like millennials(Generation Stupid) needs any more reason to be self centered!

    The Federal Government has been screwing everyone over for over 50 years and not just recently.

    If Gen Stupid wants things to improve they can start by not electing socialists to office. That is the single most important thing they can do

    1. It is a bit annoying to see the issue painted as one that is newly minted for the back of millennials alone. My only solace is that Gen X is so small any systems reliant on them to remain solvent are doomed!

  13. Don’t forget the student loan mess:

    1. easy-to-acquire federally-insured loans that anybody with a pulse (but not a marijuana citation, of course) can get. Over four years of college, maxing out these will put somebody in the hole $70K+.

    2. near absolute protection of ALL student loans from bankruptcy under US law, making the risk federally-insured and wholly-private lenders loaning tens of thousands to anybody who qualifies as a student somewhere near zero.

  14. So for 40 years some guy is forced to contribute to his retirement fund with a figurative, or maybe literal if he resists, gun to his head and when asks for his money back like he was promised, he is told what? It isn’t owed to you, it is an ‘entitlement’. Like a barony or something. Like something that you don’t really deserve but we may begrudgingly give you…but don’t bitch if we don’t.

    It is 1984 talk, using prerogatives to describe things you want people to hate. Entitlements? Since when? It’s not a tax, it was an investment. Getting back the money invested is not an entitlement, it’s part of the deal. Trying to reneg on it by casting disparaging light on those owed is fraud, plain and simple, just like me telling your wife you spent the money you lent me on 5 dollar hookers so I never have to pay you back again, assuming you live.

    Reason seems to have drained the koolaid cup on this along with every other pundit looking for weasel ways to avoid the debt owed. Man up.

    1. As long as the pay-out is not directly proportional to the pay-in…its a damn entitlement. I would gladly opt out of the Social Security if they would hand my every damn cent I’ve paid in. I wouldn’t even ask for interest. Just give my my damn money and quit stealing it from me every paycheck, and I’ll worry about how to invest it.

      1. I don’t think that pay-out being directly proportional to pay-in is a very good definition of an investment. Go to one of those wealth-builder sites and figure what putting in an average of your 40 year pay-in would be after 40 years.

        You might be thinking about no-interest savings accounts instead, useful for avoiding tax on the interest you make by avoiding any kind of profit at all. Even banks normally give interest and are FICA guarenteed so your money would grow unless you tried to avoid that.

        But I agree that if we weren’t being thieved upon each payday we couldn’t hardly do any worse then gov, but then again, I don’t think this was about protecting us, that was just the pitch to make excuses for the IRS man knocking on your door and legally taking ‘protection’ money.

    2. …make that pejoratives not prerogatives…spell checker is not always my friend

  15. I dispute that the recession is harder on the young than either the middle-aged or the elderly. The young have more time to make up for the shortfalls caused by the recession. More time to make up for the suppression of interest rates. More time to wait for recovery. More time and opportunity to train for emerging industries and professions.

    Millennials don’t have savings, house equity, retirement plans that get impacted by bursting bubbles, depressed interest rates, and stock market volatility. The middle-aged and elderly have more to loose and less time to compensate/adjust to the loss. When a middle-aged person looses there job, there is more at stake. When a millennial finds an entry level position that will hire them, its an opportunity, for the middle-aged is a restart from square-one. If that job requires training/education to land…same thing, but if they are lucky, the middle-aged have already finished paying for the first go around.

    I don’t dispute that millennials have it rough, or that they will continue to have it rough for some time, but this view that they are hardest hit seriously underestimates to value of youth and time.

    1. Those are good points but I think that another part of this are expectations. College is a lottery ticket for getting a job, not an assigned seat, and if you expect more of it than that then you are drinking that college recruiter koolaid. As well, getting a degree in whatever you please instead of getting a degree in something that is a pretty sure thing, like medicine, puts the odds not in your favor. If you don’t have a good plan then maybe finding one first is a better choice than following the lemmings over the cliff. As the guy in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance said, maybe you need to figure out if you like learning how bikes work before you decide to become an engineer designing better ones.
      Not that I have followed my own advice that much but it might be something to think about.


    Best summary I have seen of what is happening to the Millennials. Some are starting to “get it”.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.