- - Friday, January 11, 2013

It is a little-known fact that in the 2012 election, 18- to 29-year-olds, who turned out in even greater numbers than in the youth-driven 2008 election, shifted a whopping 11 points away from President Obama, making millennials the single-largest swing demographic. Historically, this was the greatest decline in support among this age group for any president who has been re-elected.

The reason for this dramatic shift is straightforward: Millennials are not a partisan generation. They don’t care about “R” and “D” labels — they just want results.

Millennials have grown up in an age where anything is possible and refuse to accept the notion that young people should give up on normal aspirations, such as having a good job in the profession of their choice or making enough money to live on their own, not at home with their parents. Thus, when the president’s re-election message to young people focused on his efforts to help with student loan rates as a solution to the huge challenges we face every day, young people’s collective response was less than enthusiastic.

In Generation Opportunity’s national survey of more than 1,000 young adults, 64 percent said the availability of more quality full-time jobs upon graduation is more important than lowering student loan interest rates. Without a good job, we can’t pay back student loans, cover rent or pay for other necessities. It’s simple math. Granted, Mr. Obama does not solely carry the blame — both parties have dropped the ball. Only 38 percent of millennials think Washington actually reflects their interests, and 47 percent actually think current economic policies are hurting them.

Generation Opportunity’s Millennial Jobs Report revealed that in December, 11.5 percent of young people were jobless. Since the data are not adjusted for seasonal factors, that number is artificially low. Come February, when all the part-time holiday jobs are a memory, that number will likely go up significantly. However, the overall picture is even worse. If you factor in the more than 1.7 million young people who have simply given up looking for work because opportunities are so scarce, the effective unemployment rate for 18- to 29-year-olds is a stunning 16.3 percent. Last year, Rutgers University found that half of recent college grads are unemployed or underemployed. Further, Pew found that among all millennials, only 30 percent consider their current job a career. In other words, working part time for a few weeks during Christmas is not cutting it — millennials want real jobs that put them on an actual career path.

Ask any young person and they’ll tell you it’s brutal out there.

Nearly 9 out of every 10 young people say their daily lives have been impacted by the current state of the economy: 51 percent have reduced their entertainment budget; 43 percent are buying fewer groceries; 38 percent are driving less. More than 4 out of 5 are now delaying major life decisions such as buying their own place, getting more education or training, paying off debts and even getting married and having kids. In fact, the Pew Research Center found in a recent study that in 2011, the U.S. birth rate fell to “the lowest ever recorded.”

Because millennials are pragmatic, they look around and ask why there are no jobs. Young people believe in themselves and could make big contributions if only they could get in the game.

How can this happen? The solution is simple. According to the Department of Labor, around 1 in 8 jobs are government jobs, while roughly 7 in 8 are private-sector jobs. Since the private sector employs most Americans, strengthening the private sector is clearly the smart way to create jobs.

That’s why 69 percent of millennials believe that if taxes on business profits were reduced, companies would be more likely to hire, while 65 percent agree that the economy grows best when individuals are allowed to create businesses without government interference. Young people understand that Washington’s role is to encourage opportunity, not get in the way. Make no mistake — both those who felt that another candidate would do a better job and those who thought Mr. Obama should be given another chance to get it right agree on this point. They also agree that decisive action is necessary.

Millennials are collectively bewildered by the lack of focus on jobs, the most pressing issue since the start of the Great Recession. Our elected leaders have somehow managed to avoid doing anything substantive to fix the problem. Young people watched as Washington borrowed more money, battled over health care legislation, argued in the last few weeks over the best way to raise taxes and left us the bill for all of it.

How does any of that address the problem?

Washington must move away from entrenched dogma and focus on the task at hand: allowing entrepreneurs, small businesses and large companies alike to thrive, grow and offer millennials the genuine opportunities they are looking for.

Young people are only asking their leaders to act like responsible adults.

Terence D. Grado, 25, is director of national and state policy at Generation Opportunity.