April kicks off the first ever National Social Security Month. This hokey effort by the government probably won’t get young Americans excited about the fundamentally unsustainable program, but millennials are already ironically taking part in the celebration by being saddled with debt from this outdated federal system. And not just in April.
It’s no news that the federal government is careening toward dangerous and unmanageable levels of debt. When it comes to living with this reality, government officials aren’t just popping the blue pill, they’re mainlining the stuff. With current government funds sunsetting on April 28, a bipartisan coalition is already forming to break the modest spending limits established in the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011. This isn’t surprising given leaders of both parties have brokered deals to ignore these budget caps in four of five years since the BCA took effect.
The most glaring obstacle to my generation’s economic and social success is our looming national budget crisis. For years, our government’s own accountants and the vast, bipartisan majority of experts have agreed that unchecked entitlement spending on programs for retirees is to blame for looming federal fiscal challenges.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) just reported that federal debt, which now stands at 77 percent of our nation’s economy, will be 50 percent larger than the U.S. economy within the next few decades. Making matters even more apocalyptic, the CBO’s new analysis shows debt will be 5 percentage points higher than previously projected, meaning the rate of debt growth is accelerating.
Millennials will not only pay higher taxes due to this recklessness, we will also have less access to the government services Americans generally agree on like education, defense, and infrastructure. Government responses to crises — be it tornadoes, terrorism, or typhoid — will not be an option as interest payments on growing debt force every policy choice to be between federal action and national bankruptcy.
My generation will be left to face a federal deficit Hunger Games. The basic programs and services of government that are not crowded out of the budget by growing interest payments on the debt will have to be ritualistically sacrificed at the altar of entitlements.
Even today, unsustainable spending on government programs forces us to confront a stifled economy. Research by Harvard University shows high government debt is associated with average reductions in total annual economic growth by over a third. In personal terms, this means lower wage growth, higher education costs, and fewer job opportunities — particularly the junior level work for whichmMillennials are most likely to be qualified. To my generation, this all sounds eerily familiar.
The median income for America’s young adults is just $22,605. Our parents were earning over 10 percent more than that (in real dollar terms) when they were our age and the gap between wages for our generation and the rest of the country is growing. Our student loan debt is the highest for any generation in American history, and we account for 47 percent of the unemployed. Even for those of us who have found work, 44 percent are working jobs that don’t use our degrees, a rate that is higher than previous generations when they first entered the job market and is still rising.
President Trump’s first budget was released with lip service barely paid to even the existence of Medicare and Medicaid and no mention of Social Security. Congress’ upcoming spending bill is also unlikely to address these programs. And the Social Security Administration is trying to throw a national party for the single biggest line item in federal spending. While our leaders fiddle, entitlements drive up our debt — growing interest payments on which will soon infect the rest of the budget and reduce every federal program to an empty shell.
On the bright side, my generation has grown up on stories of heroes like Rick Grimes and company overcoming dystopian hellscapes, so we may be well adjusted for the one in which we’ll soon be living.
Albert Downs is a senior economic analyst at Generation Opportunity, a project of Americans for Prosperity that enables young Americans to make a difference in their lives and communities by building a movement that promotes a free society.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.