The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

September 29, 2012

Student loans, jobs concern young voters

JOPLIN, Mo. — While student loans and financial aid aren’t their only issues, those concerns rank high with young and first-time voters, who are being courted by both parties in the countdown to the election.

Without student aid, Lacy Heiskell, of Joplin, said she wouldn’t be attending Missouri Southern State University. Last week, she helped with a voter registration drive on campus to encourage her peers to get out and vote.

The sophomore political science major said she hopes candidates are paying attention to those and other concerns.

Both parties are working to appeal to young voters, a group that normally doesn’t show strong interest in elections but did set a record turnout four years ago.

In 2008, young voters — those 18 to 24 years old — were the only group to show a significant increase in turnout, with 49 percent of those registered casting votes. That was up from 47 percent in 2004, according to U.S. Census Bureau. The Bureau also estimated voter turnout among young people in 2008 was the highest ever recorded because of voter outreach.

Despite that growth, though, turnout among young voters does not approach that of their older counterparts, either by percentage or numbers. For example, more than 72 percent of registered voters between the ages of 65 and 74 turn out to vote, according to the Census Bureau.

Questions about student aid and concerns about finding jobs could be the issues that push many young voters to the polls this year.

Heiskell said she doesn’t like Todd Akin’s proposal to drop federally backed student loans. Akin is the Republican candidate challenging incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill for seat in the U.S. Senate.

Akin, in a stop in Joplin last week, said he “didn’t oppose student loans, but does oppose government involvement in the program.

“They should be handled by the private sector,” he said.

McCaskill, meanwhile, has emphasized her support for an expanded Pell Grant program and favors college loans distributed directly from the federal government to students — a shift that she said would save billions and make more financial aid available.

Their differences come at the same time that a new study found student debt has stretched to a record number of U.S. households — nearly 1 in 5 — with the biggest burdens falling on the young and poor. The analysis by the Pew Research Center found that 22.4 million households, or 19 percent, had college debt in 2010. That is double the share in 1989. The increase was driven by higher tuition costs as well as rising college enrollment during the economic downturn. Across all households, the average outstanding college debt increased from $23,349 to $26,682.

Dillon Youngman, a freshman history major at MSSU, said that although he doesn’t have student loans, he recognizes the difficulty of getting an education without financial aid.

“I’m concerned about financial aid, tuition costs and the economy in general,” said Youngman, who plays baseball for MSSU.

Asked how he’ll vote in November, he offered a sports analogy: “When your team sucks, you fire the coach.”

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