President Obama’s jobs speech gives young people in particular reason to hope for change.
The president’s delivery combined the fervor of his 2004 Democratic National Committee address with stern reproach for congressional deadlock. "Pass this bill right away," he said, in some form, about a dozen times; he was less professor-in-chief than principal-in-chief.
And students, as well as young people in general, will be major beneficiaries if the bill does pass. The American Jobs Act includes provisions for teacher retention, public school modernization, and job training.
And young people can certainly rally around the president’s message and tone.
Throughout the speech, he worked to reframe the “us vs. them” dynamic that has become ever more entrenched in the public dialogue. Most of the talk about opposition was America against China or South Korea, about how we must not fall behind in global competition for innovation.
President Obama spoke in populist, emotional language about the American Dream and the fundamental unity of our country. And he reinforced that idea of unity with candid, practical language about the feasibility and popularity of his proposal.
He said “everyone knows” that small businesses are major job creators, that America’s infrastructure is crumbling, and that the wealthy get undeserved tax breaks.
And he was quick to remind Congress that both Republicans and Democrats have supported all of the proposals in the act. “There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation,” he said.
Though he conceded to “Cut! Cut! Cut!” legislators that wasteful government spending is a problem, the president rejected conservative notions that it was the only problem. He championed government investment in innovation and people—such as railroads, the Internet, and the GI bill.
He charged Congress with meeting its responsibilities—the implication being that, so far, they have not. And he charged Americans to make their voices heard and put pressure on Congress.
Young people in particular need to make their voices heard. This plan has a lot for them.
About $30 billion is allocated to modernize and repair 35,000 of the nation’s 100,000 public schools—doing everything from asbestos removal to adding science labs and Internet-ready classrooms. Forty percent of the funds will go to the 100 neediest school districts.
This $30 billion includes $5 billion for community colleges, which the president called crucial training grounds for job skills during his speech.
Further, the American Jobs Act would prevent the layoffs of 280,000 teachers and help hire tens of thousands more. That means young teachers have a better chance of staying employed, and K-12 education will benefit from reduced class sizes.
Youth unemployment in the U.S. is a crisis within a crisis. Teen unemployment is at 25.4 percent while the country as a whole sits at 9.1 percent.
The proposed Pathways Back to Work Fund would support summer jobs for low-income youth, build off of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Emergency Fund to help subsidize employment for low-income unemployed people, and support local job-training programs.
Unemployed young people could benefit from the extension of unemployment insurance while young people with jobs could look forward to a payroll tax cut, if they are not working for the most massive corporations.
It’s important to remember that many veterans are young people, too. They would get large tax credits for long-term unemployment or disabilities.
And thousands of young police officers, firefighters, and construction workers could keep their jobs or get new ones.
The American Jobs Act is bigger than many anticipated or hoped for. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein said via Twitter that, “at $447 billion, with most of it likely to spend out in 2012, this proposal might be bigger than the recovery act was in any single year.”
And it could be huge for young people.