Political Leaders: Stop Screwing Our Youth!

By Shlomo Maital


It is widely agreed that our political leaders, all over the world, are screwing up badly, on the crackpot advice of economists.  Europe is in recession, it is spreading to America and elsewhere, and no solution is in sight. 

  With  such short-term woes, it is easy to lose sight of a more serious long-term problem.  We are screwing our youth.  If the political leadership of any country were to define a mission statement (why we exist), it should always include, near the top, “building opportunities for the younger generation”.  There seems to be no such mission, and even if there were, politicians are everywhere destroying such opportunities.   Look at these youth unemployment rates: Spain 45%, Greece 49%, Sweden 30%, Ireland 35%, Finland 25%, U.S. 20%, Eurozone 22%.  And those are vast underestimates – because faced with no jobs, many youths simply do not even bother to look for one, and hence are not included in the labor force. And the best and the brightest, those who can, get on a ship or plane and leave.

   New research by Harvard U. political scientist Robert Putnam (remember “Bowling Alone”, about growing fragmentation of society) reveals:

►    “…. the children of the more affluent and less affluent are raised in starkly different ways and have different opportunities. Decades ago, college-graduate parents and high-school-graduate parents invested similarly in their children. Recently, more affluent parents have invested much more in their children’s futures while less affluent parents have not.”  [See David Brooks’ NYT Op-Ed, July 9]. 

 ► Over the past decades, college-educated parents have quadrupled the amount of time they spend reading “Goodnight Moon,” talking to their kids about their day and cheering them on from the sidelines. High-school-educated parents have increased child-care time, but only slightly.

►  Over the last 40 years upper-income parents have increased the amount they spend on their kids’ enrichment activities, like tutoring and extra curriculars, by $5,300 a year. The financially stressed lower classes have only been able to increase their investment by $480, adjusted for inflation.

► Putnam writes: “It’s perfectly understandable that kids from working-class backgrounds have become cynical and even paranoid, for virtually all our major social institutions have failed them — family, friends, church, school and community.” As a result, poorer kids are less likely to participate in voluntary service work that might give them a sense of purpose and responsibility. Their test scores are lagging. Their opportunities are more limited.  

► Richer kids are roughly twice as likely to play after-school sports. They are more than twice as likely to be the captains of their sports teams. They are much more likely to do nonsporting activities, like theater, yearbook and scouting. They are much more likely to attend religious services.

   Our worthless politicians are indeed addressing the youth issue – they exploit it, to seek voters and constituencies, rather than address it, to ameliorate it.  As Brooks notes:  “Political candidates will have to spend less time trying to exploit class divisions and more time trying to remedy them — less time calling their opponents out of touch elitists, and more time coming up with agendas that comprehensively address the problem. It’s politically tough to do that, but the alternative is national suicide.”