Millennials: Your Next President Should Be Concerned About the Debt

In a recent op-ed in TIME, Michael A. Peterson, the president and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, outlined why millennials need the next president to be worried about the debt. He argues the fiscal policies of the next president will have the greatest impact on the single largest American generation, which could face less economic opportunity, less earning power, and be less able to pay back student loans, buy a home, or start a business as a result of a high national debt. 

Peterson points to the fact that millennials are already more likely to have debt burdens, with four-year tuition costs up by 68 percent and student loan debt tripling between 1993 and 2013. He explains that they also continue to be left behind in the slow post-recession recovery with a persistent high youth unemployment rate and wages that haven’t increased in the past ten years. 

Making matters worse is our current national debt level, Peterson argues. At the highest level since 1950, it is expected to continue growing as the population ages and retires. He cites estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that project annual deficits will surpass $1 trillion by 2022, while the level of debt held by the public is expected to reach 131 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2040 or climb as high as 175 percent under less optimistic economic assumptions. 

Peterson further notes the consequences of a high national debt burden:

On our current path, we will spend nearly $6 trillion on interest alone over the next ten years, and interest will become the third largest “program” in the federal budget. In just six years, we will be spending more on interest than we have historically spent on education, infrastructure, and R&D, combined. That means that we will be spending more on our past, than on our future.

Peterson argues that America’s youth have the most to gain and the most at stake. He advocates for millennials to seek leaders that will address the nation’s alarming fiscal outlook and the economic insecurities they face. Citing a February survey of 1,006 registered voters nationwide conducted by Global Strategy Group and North Star Opinion Research, Peterson states:

  • 90% of millennials believe that younger Americans would benefit from the country coming up with a long-term plan to address the national debt—including 68% who believe they would benefit a “great deal”

  • 85% of millennials agree that their generation will be greatly impacted by how the next President deals with the long-term national debt (66% agree strongly)

  • 70% of millennials agree that the national debt is one of the top issues their generation should care about in this year’s Presidential election (41% agree strongly)

  • 66% of millennials believe that candidates in this year’s Presidential primaries should make the debt a larger part of their campaign platforms

These numbers represent an opportunity for presidential candidates to propose solutions to the pressing issues millennials face, Peterson explains.

Millennials need leaders who will address the fiscal problems that they will be burdened with, and as they become an increasingly larger portion of eligible voters, their needs will carry more weight in electoral politics. Unfortunately, the political engagement among millennials has not increased and remains lower than that of previous generations, Peterson writes, with voter turnout dropping from 2008 to 2012, and low voter turnout continuing so far this year.

As the fate of our nation’s fiscal outlook increasingly depends on the growing share of millennial voters, candidates should seize this opportunity and offer solutions that will speak to the economic challenges that millennials face.