Young people have overwhelmingly endorsed Obama as the internet’s “cool dad” and enjoyed his celebrity status, personality, and outspoken stance on progressive social values. However, recent studies indicate that his time in the White House was not as good for young people’s happiness and fiscal status as his popularity would lend one to think. On the contrary, Obama’s administration saw a sharp incline in student debt, which contributed significantly to an increase in the Youth Misery Index.
Calculated yearly by Young America’s Foundation, the Youth Misery Index (YMI) sums the youth unemployment rate, student loan debt upon graduation, and overall debt per capita to come up with a metric that describes the burden young people face in the economy. From last January to the present, this metric has jumped from 109.9, and since the President took office, from 83.5. All totalled, from start to finish, the YMI has jumped 36% under Obama’s watch.
Student debt alone has single-handedly done a lot of the heavy lifting for this metric. Jeb Bush famously tweeted on the campaign trail that the Obama administration had stood by as the national student debt doubled. Though the true increase is about 86%, it’s still a huge jump in a very short amount of time. The increasing cost of college, and the analogous increase in student debt, has been blamed for the severe decline in absolute income mobility, a measure of how likely it is for a citizen to outearn their parents. Since the 1940s, the chances of outearning your parents has dropped by about half, according to a Stanford study released early in December. Obama has tried to offer some relief to young people doubling funding for the Pell Grant, forgiving student debt after 25 years of payment, and offering income-based repayment for some debtors, but the rates and reliability of such programs are dubious at best.
Obama’s legacy on youth unemployment has been hotly contested in this past presidential campaign. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall youth unemployment has decreased overall throughout Obama’s administration, where “youth” is defined as people ages 16-24. President-elect Trump called upon the Black community to notice how their unemployment rates have swelled during Obama’s tenure in office, though his “proof” has been murky at best. Although overall unemployment for African Americans has continued to decline since 2009, it remains at double the unemployment rate of whites, arguably because of hiring biases and persistent generational poverty. Despite claims that race relations have improved during the tenure of the first Black president, the New York Times found that race relations have hit an all-time low under the Obama administration, a factor that may contribute to the continued disparity in black and white unemployment.
Lastly, the national debt and debt per capita have unarguably increased while Obama has been in office. No matter how you slice it, the budget deficits continue to grow, and debt per capita increases as well. Many have tried to assign blame to the Bush administration, and others simply hand it to the free-falling state of the global economy when Obama inherited the nation in 2009. Regardless, the debt of the nation has tripled over the past 8 years, and the incoming administration has to work extra hard to get that number down.
Time will tell how Obama’s legacy will be told in the history books, but given his record with debt, student loans, and unemployment, young people seem to be significantly worse off before the Obama administration than they are at its close. If the incoming administration can get a handle on the three factors that contribute to the Youth Misery Index, young people may be able to regain ground on income mobility.