Commentary: Crisis of Monopoly Capitalism Dims Economic Future for Youth
San José, CA – Four years after the Great Recession of 2007-2009 officially ended, millions of working people are being left behind by the expansion of the economy. While the stock market and corporate profits reached new highs, there are still millions of fewer jobs than before the recession began, and the official unemployment rate is closer to its recession high than the low before the recession. Things are bad.
Students and Youth Hit Hard
One of the groups hit hard by the economic crisis is college students and youth. The crisis led to class cuts and tuition hikes at public colleges and universities across the country. While the pace of budget cuts and tuition increases slowed with the economic expansion, they still continue today. One example is the growing threat to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), many of which are seeing dramatic and dangerous drops in enrollments because of cuts in federal student loan programs.
Youth who do manage to graduate from college, which is taking longer and becoming more expensive than ever, face a double whammy. On one hand the economic crisis sped up the restructuring of the labor market. Over the last 30 years millions of manufacturing jobs were automated away, off-shored by multinational corporations, and/or workers’ wages and benefits were cut. Now, government is one of the last remaining sectors with decent paying jobs, benefits and union representation. However, this sector has been hit harder by the Great Recession of 2009 than any other recession since the 1930s. Hundreds of thousands of local and state jobs are being lost, while government workers face wage and pension cuts and loss of union protection. Republican politicians are taking away hard-earned bargaining rights in states like Wisconsin and Michigan.
Restructuring Youth: Low-wage, Part-time and Temporary
In addition to the loss of jobs that pay a living wage and benefits, more and more permanent, full-time jobs are being replaced by temporary and part-time jobs. Today about half of all recent college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed, with part-time or temporary jobs, many of which don’t even require a college degree.
Skyrocketing Student Debt
There is an explosion of student loan debt, which totals as much as $1.2 trillion. Student loan debt is now the largest form of consumer (non-mortgage) debt, about 40% of the total. Caught between rising tuition and the cost of living on one hand and stagnant grants and wages, college students and their families have been borrowing more and more to pay for college. This student debt is a growing burden on youth, especially those who were not able to graduate or find a full-time, permanent, decent paying job.
Boom then Bust, Repeat
The boom and bust cycle under capitalism is not an accident – it is part and parcel of a capitalist economy. Wages are pushed down to grow profits, and this limits workers ability to spend. Then the profits are reinvested in expanding production, thereby increasing the ability to produce more, but the workers cannot buy all that they produce, and a periodic crisis of overproduction, or what we call recessions occur.
Crisis upon Crisis
On top of this, the build up in debt and deregulation and expansion of the financial sector following the end of the post-World War II economic boom in the 1970s led to growing financial crisis in the U.S. From the Third World debt crisis and Savings and Loan crisis in the 1980s to the Asian Economic Crisis of the 1990s, and most recently to the financial crisis in 2008, these crises have grown and become a greater and greater threat to the economy as a whole.
People Over Profits
The government is turning away from stimulating the economy to policies of more and more austerity – higher taxes on working people and cuts to programs that serve the people. The spending cuts are really felt at the state and local levels, hurting education funding from Head Start through university level. With financial regulation blocked by the power of Wall Street, it is more and more clear that the government, along with both political parties, are bought and paid for by the rich. They offer no real hope for working people and college-aged youth. Only a socialist economy, one based on people’s needs and not profit, can offer an alternative of expanding access and affordability to higher education, while creating jobs that pay a living wage.
Masao Suzuki teaches economics at a community college in California and is a member of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO).