Economic conditions leaving young electorate unemployed, disenchanted

May CSU graduate Kayla Haigh spent four years training to be a journalist. But right now, she’s  a lifeguard and swim instructor, living with her parents while she pounds the pavement for a job in her field.

“I’ve sent off a few different resumes and resume reels and cover letters, and haven’t heard anything, haven’t gotten any kind of response,” Haigh said. “… While I’m grateful for my job right now as a swim instructor, it’s just not what I want to do, and not where I want to be.”

Haigh isn’t alone.

Fifty one percent of 2011 CSU graduates were unemployed at graduation, according to Career Center data. The unemployment rate for 20 to 24 year olds is 13.5 percent, as of July, compared to 8.3 percent for the entire population, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

By contrast, before the 2008 Recession hit, the overall unemployment rate for 20 to 24 year olds was 10.2 percent, and 4.4 percent for the entire population.

Meanwhile, 55 percent of Colorado students take out some form of student loan, graduating with an average of $22,017 in debt.

“It has become more difficult for younger people to find a job right out of college,” said Andrew Hudson, the founder of the Andrew Hudson’s Jobs List, an employment posting website. “… There are people with Ivy League degrees who are waiters and waitresses right now.”

And researchers at CU-Boulder say these bleak statistics about the economy may be enough to tip the scale in GOP Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney’s favor for the upcoming election.

“The economy in a macro sense hasn’t improved enough,” said Michael Berry, a political science professor at CU-Denver who authored an analysis about the role of the economy on presidential elections with Kenneth Bickers, a political science professor at CU-Boulder. “It looks like unemployment is trending in a direction that will hurt Obama’s chances.”

Berry said the incumbent is significantly disadvantaged by economic data that shows unemployment increasing in 44 states and average income decreasing up to 2 to 3 percent in some states.

While this model doesn’t look at social issues, fundraising, likeability etc., Berry said based off of the Electoral College selection of every U.S. president since 1980, economic issues are hurting Obama’s chances at re-election.

As student unemployment continues to rise proportionally above the national average, Berry said the student vote could play a statistically significant role in the coming election — especially in Colorado.

“In a state like Colorado where it could be close, it certainly could be the youth vote that could be the difference between winning and not winning the state,” Berry said.

Students like Austin Lunn, a sophomore forestry and business major, agree that the economy will play a large role in the upcoming election.

“The equality gap, to put it bluntly, is growing worse,” Lunn said. “You’re friends with people who are graduating, and you see what they’re struggling with. It’s tough.”

CSU political science professor Kyle Saunders said one criticism of the CU study has been that it doesn’t take into account particular candidate characteristics or campaign effects, which are all factors that he said have allowed Obama to outperform current economic conditions.

He added that the economy is the most important issue for a large portion of the American electorate and young voter’s concerns are likely similar. Additionally, these economic concerns may also be leading to the decline in enthusiasm showed so far in the election.

“There is definitely a documented decline in the level of enthusiasm of younger voters in this cycle compared to 2008,” Saunders said in an email to the Collegian. “Part of that is likely to be attributable to the economy and higher unemployment, and therefore an decrease in the level of efficacy of younger voters.”

Haigh voted for Obama in 2008, and said she’s not as thrilled as she was when he was first elected.

“I’m pretty pessimistic about what’s going to happen over the next four years, since I think he’s going to get reelected,” Haigh said. “I just hope that he follows through and doesn’t kill any more jobs and make our economy suffer.“

While Saunders agreed with Berry that the youth vote could play a very significant role in this election in Colorado, he said youth turnout to the polls may not be what it was in 2008.

“New voters…  have come into university during a tougher economic time, heard stories about difficulties getting jobs and seen higher rates of unemployment,” Berry said. “That could lower their own hopes of getting a job, etc., which could make them disenchanted with President Obama.”

He said so far he hasn’t seen any polls to suggest that economic woes have pushed young voters toward Romney’s side, but more likely to a lack of interest in the election.

In the face of this turned-off, young electorate — as compared to 2008 — Saunders said Obama’s visits to college campuses serve to mobilize voters who tend to make up their minds late in the election cycle, and may be apathetic.

Despite the economy, Haigh said she’s not discouraged.

“It’s only been three months. I’ve had friends who have graduated and found something,” she said. “Everybody’s told me: ‘Don’t give up. Someone will hire you.’”

Editor in Chief Allison Sylte and Content Managing Editor Matt Miller can be reached at news@collegian.com.