Holding out hope for Obama

BY ZACH WAHLS | OCTOBER 20, 2010 7:20 AM

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In the latest report of what people think is news (but shouldn’t really be): Only 44 percent of American college students approve of President Obama’s performance, according to a recent Associated Press-mtvU poll.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be, for two reasons.

First: Think of the last time you saw a college student exuding copious amounts of patience.
There were about 8 million things — OK, I’m slightly exaggerating — that, as a liberal, I think the Obama administration should have handled or done differently. But, unlike most of my non-addicted-to-politics peers, I’m also painfully aware of why progressive change has proceeded so slowly.

A New York Times article earlier this year highlighted the root cause of this inertia: “The strategy that has brought Senate Republicans where they are today began when they gathered, beaten and dispirited, at the Library of Congress two weeks before Mr. Obama’s inauguration. They had lost seven seats in November, another was teetering, and they were about to go up against an extraordinarily popular new president and an emboldened Democratic Congress.

“ ‘We came in shell-shocked,’ said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. ‘There was sort of a feeling of “every man for himself.” [Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.] early on in this session came up with a game plan to make us relevant with 40 people. He said if we didn’t stick together on big things, we wouldn’t be relevant.’ ”

But how many of my fellow college students (or Americans generally, for that matter) happened to pick up the Times that day?

How many of us are aware that, but for 40 conservative senators, we would have much stricter financial regulation, a robust public option, and a solid plan to prevent catastrophic global climate change? Not to mention, we could have had a stimulus bill powerful enough to actually move a $14.6 trillion economy back into gear.

At the end of the day, however, the Democrats have been in power since 2006. And Republicans have proven far more adept at politics than their counterparts. Let’s face it: Most college students have more pressing things to worry about than politics — such as trying to find a job.

This brings me to my second point: The unemployment rate for young people (18-24) is 19.1 percent. This sky-high unemployment is bound to significantly weaken support for the president, among students and nonstudents alike.

While unemployment data for college students specifically was not readily available, I think it’s safe to say the job market looks pretty bleak for most of us and that we consider that in our evaluation of the president.

Fact is, this is an awful time to be graduating from college. And, according to the Brookings Institution, “For these young adults just entering the labor market for the first time, the impacts of the recession will last well into the future.”

Young people graduating from college during today’s severe recession will earn approximately 17.5 percent less per year than comparable peers graduating in better labor markets, according to a paper by Yale School of Management’s Lisa Kahn.

But here’s the thing: When you consider that not only are recent college grads making significantly less money and facing a job market that really doesn’t want us, (male employment of recent college graduates is about 50 percent), it is astonishing that we approve of President Obama as much as we do.

At 44 percent approval, and only 27 percent disapproval, it’s clear college students are holding out for the guy. We’re giving him a little bit more slack than our elders, though it seems like it’s not in our economic interest to do so.

While many have been quick to label ours the “ADD generation,” let me put it like this: We still have hope.

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