Politicians: Ignore the Millennial Student Loan Crisis at Your Own Risk

PHOTO: In this Sept. 22, 2012 fiel photo, students protest the rising costs of student loans for higher education in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, California.

Though politicians fall all over themselves when it comes to voters in my age bracket and even older (that's almost impossible to comprehend), a new survey by Harvard's Institute of Politics shows a growing class of discontented, registered voters who agree that there is one major issue among them regardless of party affiliation: that class is millennials, and that issue is student loan debt.

Despite being ignored by many politicians (unless it's for a photo op), fully 68 percent of the 18- to 29-year-olds surveyed are already registered to vote. Their approval of President Obama is near an all-time low, their approval ratings of Congressional Democrats and Republicans is close to zero and almost half of them (49 percent) think this country is headed in the wrong direction. A majority of them would recall the entire Congress -- and 45 percent of them would recall their own representatives.

Although the impression of many people in my age bracket is that all young people these days are liberal, that's not true: 37 percent of them self-identify as conservative or leaning conservative compared to the 33 percent that identify as liberals. The only good news for Democrats is that 33 percent of millennials identify with the Democratic party – mirroring the percentage of self-identified liberals – but only 24 percent identify as Republican. Democrats might not have to worry (yet) about losing liberal millennials' affections, but Republicans seemingly already have.

An Issue That Bridges the Divide

They do generally agree on one thing: student loan debt is out of control. About 42 percent of millennials say they or someone in their household has student loan debt, but 57 percent say that they think student loan debt is a major problem, while a grand total of 79 percent think it's generally a problem.

Why so much agreement? Well, for starters, there are 14 million people under the age of 30 with outstanding student loans. The average debt load for someone who graduated in 2012 was a staggering $29,400 – but the unemployment rate in that age bracket was 11.6 percent in November and, for those who are employed, the average annual earnings for those in the 16-24 age bracket ranges from just over $21,000 for women to just over $24,000 for men (regardless of educational attainment, though it improves significantly for those over 25 with college educations). So many recent graduates are saddled with a debt burden close to or larger than the average annual salary for someone their age, and they'd be lucky to find a job at all.

In fact, a Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce study earlier this year showed that the average millennial won't earn the median-wage annual income of $42,000 until they are 30 – a full four years later than those who came of age around 1980. Millennials know that it's increasingly hard to do as well as their own parents, if not better, and the path they're all trying to follow to achieve that goal – a college education – is getting much more expensive.

And who do they think is responsible for that problem? Well, 30 percent blame the federal government for skyrocketing education costs, 42 percent blame institutions of higher education and another 8 percent blame state government officials.

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