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The Cost of Political Apathy Among America’s Young Adults

As I leave the post of Opinions Editor, I would like to make one observation about student interest in politics, not only here at Yeshiva University but across the country as well. Over the course of the year, I have seen firsthand the immense apathy most of my colleagues exhibit towards politics and public policy, especially with regard to the economy and fiscal issues. When approached about writing an opinion piece, most students profess to know little about politics much less feel passionately enough to author an article. This political disengagement is not indigenous to Yeshiva University, however, but rather is endemic to most college campuses here in America. As political commentators Ruy Teixeira and Thomas Patterson point out, voter turnout in our age group has suffered the most rapid decline of any since the 1960s. Numerous surveys (such as those conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute, the National Association of Secretaries of State, and others) have demonstrated astonishingly low levels of civic and political engagement in the 18-29 year-old demographic.

This trend presents a dangerous setup in which a larger and larger share of the electorate either does not vote or does so while completely misinformed about the issues at stake. The result is decreasing accountability on the part of our elected officials, especially when it comes to preserving the economic interests of the younger generation. For example, politicians might pause before continuing to saddle future American workers with historic levels of debt if those who will bear that burden would speak out. Students might not be so happy to hear that the generous entitlement programs their grandparents now enjoy may not exist in their current form when their own retirement comes. While college students feel passionately about social issues such as gay marriage, abortion, and gun control, these issues admittedly do not have the sweeping and profound impact on the everyday lives of most Americans. The fact that most students have seldom been exposed to the hassles of a byzantine tax structure does not help the cause.

Here at YU, I feel that awareness of foreign policy issues, especially those pertaining to Israel, is relatively high. Yet, for all of those not planning on moving to Israel, America’s fiscal and economic outlook is arguably just as critical for us to keep well-informed of. With 54% of recent college graduates either jobless or underemployed, the state of our economic recovery should be of paramount concern to all undergraduates planning on entering the workforce in the coming years. The single largest factor that can spur or impede economic growth is government policy. To be completely ignorant of the major fiscal issues of the day, from Obamacare to tax policy to sequestration and budget cuts, is simply imprudent. Even if politics on the whole seems dirty or just flat-out dull, each of us has a duty to both ourselves and our fellow citizens to at least acquire a minimal working knowledge of the field.

This is not to say that every student here at YU need become a political junkie who subscribes to multiple newspapers and watches C-SPAN religiously. More accurately, I am arguing for more political cognizance on the part of America’s youngest voters, those who will soon be joining the productive sector of the economy if they have not already done so. The laws our government passes, and those it chooses not to, have real-life ramifications for all Americans across all age-groups, even if for some these consequences will only manifest themselves at a later date. As students, we must realize that we too can and should make our voices heard from among the din of American political discourse. We will soon be inheriting a country already facing substantial fiscal and socioeconomic challenges. It behooves us to start paying attention to the policies that carry so much import now and in the years ahead.