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College president says national debt, unemployment of recent grads are linked

by Nate Mickelberg
Jun 4, 2013

The country’s current national debt and high unemployment rate for recent college graduates are directly linked, said former Indiana governor and current Purdue University president Mitch Daniels Tuesday.

“I just think it’s inarguable that our first priority has got to be more economic opportunity,” Daniels said, “[that] translates into more jobs, particularly for young people, translates into more revenue ultimately for government.”

Daniels also said that immigration reform is one of the public policies that should be looked at as a way to help kick-start the economy and create more jobs for young people, who are now graduating with an average student debt of more than $26,000 in Illinois and more than $24,000 nationally.

“I think we ought to be wide open to people of talent and people of enterprise,” Daniels said. “And shift our historic policy away from this unique approach we’ve had based on family connections, and shift very decisively in favor of those who would come here to learn, to be productive, to invest.”

Daniels said keeping more international students here after they graduate would have two closely related effects on the debt.

“One, more young people in general. We need more young people in this country to provide the basis for paying our bills later,” Daniels said. “And [they] would make enormously productive citizens.

“It’s almost a cliché to observe that immigrants often make the best Americans. They appreciate so much the freedom and the opportunity that’s here that they never take it for granted and tend to work extraordinarily hard. And at this stage in our history we can’t get enough such people.”

Daniels was joined on the conference call with reporters by two recent college graduates who echoed his belief that the current 11 percent-plus unemployment rate for millennials, those ages 18-34, is a result of the country’s fiscal woes.

Christopher Breene, who graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a degree in political science in spring 2012, said he thinks a number of recent government gridlocks have contributed greatly to the current lack of jobs.

“Due to political road bumps like the fiscal cliff fiasco, debt ceiling debacle, the senseless sequester,” Breene said, “young people like me, who are hoping to find employment, especially a job in public service, are being turned away.

“After applying for pretty to close to 700 positions, from congressional offices to the Peace Corps, I’m still here looking for that elusive entry-level policy job.”

Recent graduate Emily Thuja said that she believes that the government should be held to the same standard as students when it comes to managing debt.

“From my perspective,” said Thuja, who pays one-fifth of her monthly income to student loan debt, “if I’m being responsible and paying off my debt when things are hard, I would like to see our government able to do the same thing, compromise, make those tough decisions.”

Tuesday’s conference call was hosted by The Can Kicks Back, a nonpartisan, Millennial-driven campaign aimed at reducing the national debt.