The ‘we don’t know’ approach to millennials’ future

Amid the usual rhetorical fluff accompanying the rollout of President Obama’s endorsement of Elizabeth Warren’s student loans bill and executive order continuing an ongoing “year of action” in avoiding Congress, came another unsurprising nugget that’s equally disheartening.

How will you pay for it?

“We actually don’t know the cost yet, so obviously we have to go through this regulatory process so we’ll have to go through this at the back end.” –Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

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Surface level takeaway – a nation $17 trillion in debt implements expansion of a federal program and the administration doing so has deduced it’s better to figure up the cost once it’s done.

The plan itself is just more administrative fiat that’s all hat and no cattle, a midterm ploy to win millennial votes that’ll do little to alleviate the real problems confronting young Americans in an economy that’s still struggling. It caps monthly loan payments at 10 percent of differential income while offering forgiveness at the 20 year mark.

More than 40 million Americans are dealing with student loan debt, myself included. It’s a real issue.

However, no step taken this week keys in on its roots that have brought despair to so many – those being college affordability and the availability of good jobs post-graduation.

Instead, the plan we’re getting largely consists of more cliché-ridden tax hikes and class warfare rhetoric on the bottomless trough that is “millionaires.”

It’s what Democrats hope will hit a pitch-perfect tenor as they look to change the subject from Obamacare, a contracting economy, and new EPA regulations that are hammering blue-collar jobs in red states.

A far better prescription for newly-minted graduates staring down the barrel of a loan-loaded 45 would be actually growing opportunity by empowering small businesses to create jobs.

It looks good on paper, sure. Millions more will be eligible for loan forgiveness after 20 years and that’s already coupled with loan forgiveness at the 10 year mark for those working in public service or government.

What we aren’t getting, though, are policies that’ll help folks get jobs so that it doesn’t have to get to that point. 

After all, the kind of choices that would entail don’t make for good 10 word answers.

What we also aren’t getting is any kind of step that actually addresses ever-increasing tuition costs, which have shot through the roof over the last three decades.

Obama and Warren’s plans confront neither head-on. Instead, they would raise taxes and brace for the worst possible outcome - that being the idea that they must prevent more Americans from defaulting on loans.

Actually tackling the issues here is a treacherous path, but it’s the right thing to do.

As of 2012, 44 percent of recent graduates reported being underemployed. This year’s top graduate of Brooklyn College currently has an internship that pays $8.13 an hour, and “in this job market…considers herself pretty lucky.”

That’s not acceptable and we can’t allow it to become the norm. This doesn’t address that, though.

Growing the economy equates to more opportunities for jobs that pay well and enable students to become self-sufficient, not riding out two decades of their life in a struggling economy before loan forgiveness.

The former is a far better path, in my mind.

We need optimistic, forward-thinking leadership and policies to get us there, not this kind of business as usual flare for political points.

The least we could use is leadership that figures out how much an executive order will cost before issuing said executive order in the name of giving the next generation a better future.

Howell is an account director at Hynes Communications and contributor to the Peach State political blog Georgia Tipsheet. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonDHowell.