Fiscal Cliff Has Big Implications for the Young

This op-ed was written by Ben Harris, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who -- along with fellow students Alex Zukauskas, Peng Yin, Bekah Ludwig, Katie Maike and Meagan Brasier -- founded a Concord Coalition chapter on the Madison campus. The op-ed appeared recently in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.


On Jan. 1, a number of laws will take effect that will substantially increase taxes and cut federal spending unless lawmakers take action. The "fiscal cliff," the popularized term used to describe this potential budget deficit disaster, is the hottest topic on Capitol Hill and in households across the nation.

But amid all the hoopla is this fact: Failing to face the problem disproportionately affects young people such as me.

If lawmakers do not take action, unemployment may increase sharply, wiping out gains of the past few months. The Congressional Budget Office suggests that up to 3.4 million jobs could be lost as a result of going over the fiscal cliff. The CBO believes a slowing economy will increase layoffs and decrease hires because of cuts in the defense budget and other industries.

How can the government explain this to young people already struggling to find a job?

Even more important: How can the government explain this to young people who just buried themselves in student debt to improve their chances of obtaining a job?

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that 60% of the nearly 20 million Americans who attend college borrow annually to help finance their education. In fact, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports that there is about $902 billion in total outstanding student loan debt in the United States today.

Young Americans see student debt as an investment that will one day generate a return from an income-producing job and, they hope, a successful career. But the potential for those returns already has been diminished by the recent recession and could be crushed by the increases in taxes and spending cuts that would occur if lawmakers don't act.

How would young people react to this?

Well, they may no longer be able to justify an investment in higher education. Is that the message Capitol Hill wants to send to young Americans? I doubt it, but unless lawmakers intervene before Jan. 1, this may very well be the case.

Young Americans want to get an education. They understand that soon they will be the protectors of the nation. As a result, if lawmakers are hesitant to act, then it is the duty of the young Americans who will be disproportionately affected to make sure their voices are heard.

Even beyond the fiscal cliff, the current generation of young Americans may be financially crippled by America's accumulating debt and deficits. They will have a lasting impact on my generation because as our nation's massive outstanding debt comes due, we will be the ones footing the bill.

Our nation will be simply kicking the can down the road until it realizes that rapidly accumulating debt is not sustainable. Until the politicians on Capitol Hill take action, the dreams of my generation are in danger. Young Americans must educate themselves about this issue.

This op-ed can also be found here.