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March 21, 2008

A New Deal of Their Own

The March issue of The American Prospect carries a special report, "Mobilizing Millennials: Will Their Economic Raw Deal Fuel the Next New Deal?" in which I have an article, "A New Deal of Their Own." Here I pursue a theme that I have raised in Freedom's Power and in a series of articles (see my earlier post on "The Idea of a Young America Program").

The persistent problems among America's children are well known. What's less widely appreciated is that during the past 35 years these problems have increasingly extended into young adulthood. But not all age groups have seen their fortunes sink; the economic situation of the elderly has improved markedly, thanks in large measure to public policy. I argue:
As this contrast suggests, the difficulties facing the young generally -- both children and young adults -- are the result of long-standing limitations in social policy whose effects have been aggravated by recent changes in the economy and the family. The three great waves of social reform since the 1930s -- the New Deal, the post-World War II GI Bill, and the Great Society -- failed to establish durable policies in support of the young.
It's this historical point that is the key contribution of this piece. Each of these previous eras of reform in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1960s originally included a substantial component targeted to young adults. But unlike the programs for the elderly, the programs for the young were never successfully institutionalized, and those that have remained have been supported by discretionary spending and proved far more vulnerable to cutbacks during recessions.

How to remedy that problem? I've offered several proposals. The first step, however, may be recognition by the young themselves that America hasn't done right by them and that they need a new deal of their own.

Young people interested in these issues should consider attending a conference of the Roosevelt Institution April 9 in Washington D.C.: "Toward a New New Deal: FDR's Liberalism and the Future of American Democracy."

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