A broken contract

As part of their lobbying effort to promote the Affordable Care Act ahead of the enrollment deadline for healthcare coverage in 2014, the Obama administration aggressively campaigned to enroll more “Young Invincibles,” young people between the ages of 18 and 35. The importance of young people to the healthcare law is well documented; the law’s success is predicated on a large pool of young, healthy people to subsidize healthcare costs for seniors and for individuals with preexisting conditions.  The campaign prominently articulated that it is a civic duty for young people to buy health insurance to ensure that the system works effectively for less healthy subsets of the US population. This idea plays in to the notion of a social contract firmly embedded in American ideology. In the past, countless generations have sacrificed and fought costly wars in order to provide prosperity and safeguard freedom for posterity. However, as a 16 year old, I wonder if the baby boomer generation and the politicians in charge are upholding their end of the social contract. They have fallen short on their obligations to provide for my generation and are now demanding sacrifices from us.

The budgetary events of the past months have indicated that politicians are inclined to slash discretionary spending, disproportionately affecting young people. Automatic spending cuts known as sequestration have had a devastating impact on the early-education program Head Start, which was forced to deny services for 70,000 children. Critical job-training programs have also been compromised; programs targeted at youth have been cut by a billion dollars at a time when the seven million unemployed people between the ages 17 to 24 are devoid of the skills critical for employment. And 600,000 mothers and children were kicked off the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), at a time when 20 percent of children suffer from hunger. While the recent Ryan-Murray compromise provided much needed relief from the sharp cuts to discretionary spending, 70 percent of sequestration remains in effect for the years 2014 and 2015.

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Spending cuts for 2016 remain entirely unchanged. The behavior of both major political parties is seriously impacting my generation, the future of our nation. These dramatic cuts are compromising our ability to compete in a globalized world and are harming our health and safety. Furthermore, these draconian cuts are insufficient to address the long-term deficit. Economist Larry Kotlikoff estimates that even with sequestration, the fiscal gap (future liabilities deducted by future revenues) remains at a staggering $200 trillion. While the structural deficit can be reduced in the years to come, it appears increasingly likely that my generation will be burdened by enormous debt, especially since both political parties are unwilling to consider entitlement reforms. To service this debt burden, my generation will be deprived of many benefits as we age, including the entitlement programs seniors currently enjoy.

The behavior of the politicians in power is antithetical to American values. Older generations have continually made sacrifices to ensure the success of posterity. As John Adams once said, his generation’s sacrifice was the “cost” for maintaining freedom. Similar sacrifices were made by many of Adams’ succeeding generations. But recently, politicians have neglected the future of young people at the expense of preserving benefits for seniors. Before lecturing young people on their civic duties, the generations in power ought to ensure that they live up to their own obligations to America’s youth.

Sridhar is a junior high school student in San Francisco and serves as a youth advisor at Stanford University to William Perry, who served as U.S. Secretary of Defense during the Clinton administration.