At Iowa City Obama Stop, Young Voters Say Jobs Their Top Concern
By Gregg Hennigan, Reporter
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Some of today's college students were not yet born when Bill Clinton rode the phrase "It's the economy, stupid," to the White House in 1992.
But 20 years later, young people at President Barack Obama's Wednesday speech at the University of Iowa said the economy and, more specifically, jobs are the biggest issues for them as the 2012 presidential campaign ramps up.
That's the belief of Sergio Murillo, a 20-year-old at the UI studying computer science. The Chicago native said he's tried to make good choices in borrowing and he's hopeful his major will help him land a good job upon graduating next year. But he already has more than $50,000 in student loans.
"It's worried me ever since my freshman year of college," he said.
Obama spoke to a crowd of 5,500 people, many of them students, at the UI Field House about student loans. The president said some Republicans are saying his pushing the issue is taking the focus away from the economy, an argument he rejected.
"This is the economy," he said. "This is about your job security. This is about your future."
Alex Giardino, 21, is going to China to teach English for a year after he graduates in May. He's an international business major, but he said it's a difficult job market for new graduates because workers with more experience also are looking for employment.
"It's kind of hard to compete with that," said Giardino, of Elgin, Ill., who is leaning toward voting for Obama in the election.
In a Harvard University Institute of Politics survey released this week, 56 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds cited jobs and the economy as their top concern. That's down 16 percentage points from the fall, however, which the institute said indicated "some of the intense pressure that young Americans were feeling related to the economy" was beginning to dissipate.
The Pew Research Center reported in February that the 54 percent employment rate for people between the ages of 18 and 24 was the lowest since the government began collecting that information in 1948.
Kelsey Boehm, chairwoman of the UI College Republicans, placed the blame on Obama for the poor job market for recent graduates. The 20-year-old UI junior from Peoria, Ill., said in a phone interview that the economy and jobs will be the biggest issues in the election, which she believes favors the likely GOP presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.
"I know a lot of people here at the university are more liberal on social issues, but they're willing to vote for a social conservative just because of the economy and jobs," she said.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, said in a statement that Obama's UI visit was an "election-year gimmick that will do nothing to bring much-needed jobs to our nation's young adults and recent graduates."