Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Where are the Youth? I'll Tell You Where They Are!

It seems that there is a cottage industry in the liberal blogosphere of questioning the patriotism and activism of today's youth.  You hear it all the time from baby boomers looking back wistfully at the 60's, wondering where the next generation of protesters and angry progressives went.

We've seen push backs against this meme in diaries like this and like this, basically admitting youth apathy, but saying that it's "really really hard" or that youth feel a "sense of hopelessness".

The trouble is that all of this is just pure bullshit.  And I'm going to prove it.

Exhibit A: The recent Bloomberg Poll linked to by Kos on the frontpage:

A Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll of Americans age 18 to 24 found Bush's approval rating was 20 percent, with 53 percent disapproving and 28 percent with no opinion.  That compares to a 40 percent approval rating among Americans of all ages in a separate Bloomberg/Times poll...

"Across a broad swatch of social issues, younger Americans see the administration as being out of line with what they believe." ...

"It's overly simplistic to say people hate Bush, people hate the war," Kirby said.  While "Republicans could do a better job" winning over young Americans, Kirby said, "Democrats aren't offering ideological vision for the future that's exciting to young people."

Democrats not offering a vision?  I've never heard anything like that before.  But it's important to note that Bush's approval among youth is HALF that of the general public.

Exhibit B: American Idol votes.  It is old hat by now that more Americans voted for the winner of American Idol than for President:

RONALD Reagan set a record when he received 54.5 million votes to claim the United States presidency in 1984. In 2004, George Bush broke it with nearly 62 million under his belt.

But in a new indicator of just how seriously America takes its elections - or, perhaps, how seriously it takes the post of president - a grey-haired soul singer from Alabama has eclipsed both by scooping an unprecedented 63.4 million votes to claim a far loftier title: the new American Idol.

Now, most detractors of this statistic point to the fact that those under 18 can vote on Idol, while they cannot vote for the election.  But how many young people, at least in the 18-24 bracket, are actually voting on Idol?

According to the LA Times:

Myth: More young adults cast ballots for "American Idol" than vote in political elections.

Truth: Only 21% of poll respondents ages 18 to 24 said they had voted for an "American Idol" contestant. But 53% said they had voted for a candidate for public office.

(Vince Bucci / Getty Images

That's right, people.  53% of 18-24 year olds said that they had voted for a candidate for public office; 21% for American Idol.  Now, the respondents could have been lying, but it does not surprise me, as a market researcher, than the demographic of youth who would respond to such a poll would have voted in a presidential election.

I wonder who is doing all the American Idol voting?  Perhaps it's the same people with 20 years' experience in marketing departments who are peddling this crap in the first place...


But why aren't they protesting in the streets, you ask, if they are so engaged, and so upset with Bush?

I'll tell you why.  For same reason they aren't going to the movies: in the overpriced and over-commodified society in which we live, they simply cannot afford to.

From the LA Times again, this time about movies:

Myth: Box-office receipts have suffered in recent years because the movies are bad and young people don't like bad movies.

Truth: The main reason young people give for not liking the theater experience is that tickets and concessions cost too much. Bad movies were ranked below moviegoers who talk during the feature and too many advertisements.

(Ken Hively / LAT)

And the rest of life is, well, slightly more expensive than your average $14 movie ticket.  Anyone who's been paying any attention knows that life is getting extremely expensive, especially for young people.

Nowhere is this case made more forcefully clear than in Tamara Draut's excellent book Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead.  From the Publisher's Weekly:

It's hard to believe: "Today's college grads are making less than the college grads of thirty years ago." In fact, men aged 25 to 34 with bachelor's degrees are making just $6,000 more than those with high school diplomas did in 1972. This is just one of the many shocking statistics uncovered by Draut, a think-tank adviser and media pundit, in this incisive and revealing look at why today's young adults find financial independence so difficult. With catchy terms such as "debt-for-diploma" and "paycheck paralysis," Draut shows why this age group's ability to accomplish the traditional adult markers of school, career and family is stagnating. Her presentation features the one-two punch of well-sourced data and a series of stories from a diverse group of interview subjects to prove her thesis that depressed wages, inflated educational costs, soaring credit card debt and skyrocketing health and child-care expenses present nearly insurmountable obstacles to young adults' success.

That's right, boomers.  Back in your day, you could go to college, trip out on acid, protest the war, get B and C averages, and still find a freaking job, without having to cover massive student loans and skyrocketing rents and mortgage costs.

For today's youth, a Master's Degree costing $120,000 has almost become a necessity for getting the 60-hour-a-week corporate job that will allow you to pay down that $500,000 mortgage in some crappy suburban sprawl-filled area of American Wal-Mart hell. And oh--you don't have a 3.5 GPA? Sorry, there are ten other candidates who DO ready to take your place.


But still, why not protest?

Well, perhaps you could start with the fact that everyone's lives are now an open book, and stuff you do in college reverberates to your life in the corporate world; to the fact that background checks are now instantaneous and automatic for any serious position.

But hey--nobody here is worried about that, right?  We're all brave progressives here!  In fact, let me just pull out the real names of some Kossacks here....oh, wait.  That's a bannable offense.

In fact, outside of some of the most famous bloggers here, my Real-Life (RL) identity is one of the few that you can easily find with a simple google search.  I don't hide it.

If you want to know why some of our progressive activists don't take too many risks, start by asking yourself why you use a clever username and don't put out any info that would identify you in real life.

It's about, you know, making a living.  Put yourself in the wrong situation, and you won't be able to pay off that college debt, or that rent or that mortgage.


Finally, there is the question of leadership.

Back in the 1960's, boomers had three presidents for leaders, each with incredible foibles, but each extraordinary in their own way: Nixon, Johnson and Kennedy.

Nixon opened up China and founded the EPA.

Johnson promoted the Great Society.

And Kennedy was, well, Kennedy.

Meanwhile, the best the boomer generation could come up with for presidential candidates to inspire America were...wait for it...John Kerry and George W. Bush.

Perhaps, instead of asking where the youth activism went, we should be asking where the leadership went.  Kossacks are proud to speak of the need for a Democratic Party that leads the people in progressive causes rather than putting their fingers to the popular wind; perhaps it's time for some real leadership from this great generation of 60's Activists that the youth hear about so often.


The truth is that there is no youth apathy problem.

We DESPISE Bush, and we turn out in elections like never before--in spite of the weapons of mass distraction peddled by our elders in this shallow consumer culture.

But we're doing exactly what YOU'RE ALL DOING RIGHT HERE: keeping our heads down and not rocking the boat too much so that we can afford to pay the freaking rent--because living expenses have risen versus wages by, oh, only a gazillion percent.  And just one small misstep can get us fired, or lose us clients.

Not that we've seen too many inspiring leaders to give us hope for the future, anyway: Ned Lamont, John Conyers and Russ Feingold aren't exactly household names.  George Bush, Dick Cheney, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry are, unfortunately.

Because if boomers want to know what's wrong with America today, they shouldn't look at the youth.  We're doing what we can.  They should look in the mirror.

[Cross-posted from My Left Wing]


Blogger DEBTective said...

It may be hard to get ahead, baby, but it's doable. Get on a budget, stick to it, and don't spend what you don't have. If you ain't making the dough, find a job where you can. Don't let the stiffsuits in Washington decide how your finances turn out.

12:21 PM  

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