Politics
President Barack Obama is seen on stage before delivering the commence address at Barnard College, Monday, May 14, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) President Barack Obama is seen on stage before delivering the commence address at Barnard College, Monday, May 14, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)  

Obama promises gradual ‘progress’ for unemployed, debt-laden college grads

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama tried Wednesday to reassure younger voters worried about their prospects, but instead offered only a long-term hope of economic change.

“I don’t promise that this will solve all our immediate economic challenges, but my plans will lay the foundation for long term growth for your generation, and for generations to follow,” Obama told an unemployed, in-debt law-school grad, who asked him an online question on Reddit.com.

“So don’t be discouraged — we didn’t get into this fix overnight, and we won’t get out overnight, but we are making progress and with your help will make more,” Obama promised.

Roughly 23 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed. Unemployment rates are high for college grads but even higher for low-skilled workers, who also face competition from increasing automation, overseas producers and illegal immigrants.

Many college grads also are burdened with debt, partly because the federal government is providing more loans to students amid increasing university costs. College debt overall now exceeds $1 trillion.

“Despite graduating from a top [law] school, I find myself unemployed with a large student loan debt burden … [and] it’s difficult to be optimistic about the future knowing that my ability to live a productive life — to have a fulfilling career, to buy a house, to someday raise a family — is hampered by my debt and the bleak economic outlook for young people,” the unidentified Reddit user told the president.

GOP and Democratic pollsters expect situations like the questioner’s to damage Obama’s support among students. (RELATED: Obama floats constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United)

In 2008, Obama won 66 percent of younger voters’ support. Recent polls show roughly 55 percent support him now.

That decline is also on display at his public events. In late 2010 he drew an audience of 12,000 at a speech at Charlottesville, Va., where the University of Virginia is located.

But on Wednesday approximately 6,500 attended his speech at the same location.

That damage was acknowledged by the law-school grad.

“Many of us are demoralized. Your 2008 campaign was successful in large part due to the efforts of younger demographics. We worked for you, we campaigned for you, and we turned out in record numbers to vote for you. … What hope can you offer us for your second term?”

“I understand how tough it is out there for recent grads,” Obama replied.

“You’re right — your long term prospects are great, but that doesn’t help in the short term.” Obama also claimed he had provided some aid to unemployed, in-debt college graduates.

“You can stay on your parent’s [health insurance] plan until you’re twenty six … [and] we are lowering the debt burdens that young people have to carry,” he said.

However, Obama acknowledged the graduate’s focus on his economic opportunities as he slashed at Romney’s free-market economic proposals.

“The key for your future, and all our futures, is an economy that is growing and creating solid middle class jobs. … The other party has two ideas for growth — more tax cuts for the wealthy (paid for by raising tax burdens on the middle class and gutting investments like education) and getting rid of regulations we’ve put in place to control the excesses on Wall Street and help consumers.”

Obama repeated his stump speech by arguing that his current and future economic strategy would jump-start the stalled economy.

“I want to keep promoting advanced manufacturing that will bring jobs back to America, promote all-American energy sources (including wind and solar), keep investing in education and make college more affordable, rebuild our infrastructure, [and] invest in science,” he said.

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