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Twenty-Somethings and the Sequester

WIC_mother_and_child
Programs such as WIC, which is dominated by women in their twenties, face serious sequestration cuts. Here in an archival USDA photo, a young mother and her daughter visit a WIC office. (USDA/National Archives and Records Administration)

By Nina Keehan

As the $85 billion in sequestration cuts start to take effect over the next few months, many billions of dollars will be siphoned from programs aimed at helping the most vulnerable Americans. Poor people. Hungry people. And twenty-somethings?

That’s right, young people have a lot at stake as the budget cuts go into effect. The sequester will have dire consequences for twenty-something who are already living below the poverty line, and will also harm young people who are looking to escape poverty through education. The idea of the college years, and the period right after graduation, as a time filled with learning and carefree discovery is falling away—many college students and recent graduates are living in poverty, are homeless, or using government assistance to stay afloat. 

As of May 2012, the U.S. unemployment rate for 20-24 year olds stood at 13.5 percent, several percentage points higher than the national average. The recession has also forced more than 6 million young people to move back in with their parents for economic reasons. Over 45 percent of them would have incomes below the poverty line if living alone. What was meant to be a temporary fix is quickly becoming a permanent reality.

College students and recent grads are going to face some of the most detrimental cuts as federal work-study programs and payments to millions of student loan borrowers are about to be reduced.

“That would mean for the fall as many as 70,000 students would lose access to grants and to work-study opportunities,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated in a White House briefing Feb. 27. “And if young people lose access to grants and lose access to work study, my fear … is many of them would not be able to enroll in college, would not be able to go back. And, again, do we want a less-educated workforce?”

This is a workforce that is already looking at a dim future. U.S. economic growth is expected to drop by nearly one-third this year, meaning even fewer new jobs in an already competitive market. Such cuts threaten to rob millions of young people of the opportunities that gainful employment and higher education promise.

Additionally, programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which is dominated by women in their twenties, are bracing for huge cuts. Over the next few months, if lawmakers can’t come to a better solution than the sequester, more than 600,000 women and children will lose access to the assistance that, for decades, has given vulnerable families an equal footing.

It’s easy as a twenty-something to ignore the reality and pretend that the sequester doesn’t affect us. But it’s real. Sequester cuts will make it harder for us to get jobs, harder to make a living without the help of our families, and harder for those of us who are already struggling to feed our children and to prosper. It’s important that we call our members of Congress and express our outrage over these across-the-board cuts and the negative impact they will have. We are the future of America, so why are we quiet?

Nina Keehan, a media relations intern at Bread for the World, is a senior magazine journalism and public health dual major at Syracuse University.

 

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