College graduates at commencement normally wear black robes, and this year, wearing black will be more fitting than ever before.
In America, college graduation has always been a reason to celebrate. It's always been an accomplishment in which families take pride. Students have come to expect that when they work hard and earn good grades, they will have more opportunity, earn more money and live happier lives.
They shouldn't expect that this year, though.
College costs have spiked while youth-employment opportunities have plummeted, leaving 2014 college graduates potentially worse off than non-graduates for the first time in history.
Thanks to the highest burden of student-loan debt ever — nearly $30,000 per new graduate on average — young Americans are beginning their professional lives yoked to a debt that many will not be able to repay because of an abysmal job market.
While the unemployment rate for the entire labor force has somewhat recovered, youth unemployment has remained at a stubbornly high 16 percent. If we account for those young Americans who have given up looking, America has the highest structural youth unemployment rate ever recorded.
For recent graduates under age 25, 53 percent of those who hold degrees are either unemployed or have jobs that do not require a college education. For those 53 percent, paying off their student-loan debt — which is equivalent to paying off a new Mercedes CLA Class sedan — is a difficult task. That's why student-loan defaults are at an all-time high — 10 percent of loan holders are defaulting in the first two years.
For those 53 percent, it's tough to justify how spending tens of thousands on a degree was worth it.
And it will only be worse for 2014 grads because the cost of education and the rate of average student-loan debt are going up by more than twice the rate of inflation, while employment prospects remain at depression levels.
In recessions and depressions of the past, young workers have always suffered more than the average worker — but never before have these workers been burdened with so much debt.
It's one thing to be, as more than 36 percent of those under age 32 are, too poor to move out of their parents' basement. It's another to be defaulting on debt while living in that basement. That's what many 2014 grads have to look forward to.
It's no wonder that 69 percent of young Americans think income inequality is a major political issue, a significantly higher percentage than any other demographic. It's also no surprise that a new Harvard University poll found that 80 percent of millennials distrust the federal government.
America's institutions are failing 2014's graduating class, and the current policies in Washington aren't helping. Obamacare's price controls are raising premiums for young Americans by 45 percent on average, adding to their financial yoke and making young workers more costly to hire for full-time jobs.
President Obama and his party have attracted young voters, but under the president's student-loan nationalization, average tuition prices have climbed 30 percent and America's total student-loan debt is now more than $1 trillion.
Both parties in Washington have failed to work together to pass economic-policy reforms to get young Americans back to work. Neither party has made it a central campaign message for 2014. The next generation is being ignored.
After the 2014 graduates walk across the stage and into debt and poverty, they need to take action. Instead of just distrusting government, it's time to make over government.
Young Americans are the fastest-growing voting bloc, yet a recent poll shows they are less likely to vote in the 2014 election. My advice to the class of 2014 is simple: Prove this poll wrong.
Those who find themselves jobless or underemployed should vote. If their loan payments become unbearable, they should write their members of Congress, demanding they hold higher education accountable for tuition hikes. Those who cannot afford medical insurance ought to support candidates who want to replace Obamacare with real reform to lower costs.
The class of 2014 may have a depressing outlook, but there is opportunity if, and only if, they become politically active.
Charlie Kirk is the founder and executive director of Turning Point USA.