Harvard poll: Millennials “mugged by reality” on Obamacare

Published December 6, 2013

Values & Capitalism Blog

Harvard University released the results of a new national poll this week, examining the latest attitudes of 18- to 29-year-olds on matters of political economy. The big surprise is that Millennials overwhelmingly disapprove of Obamacare.

In a survey of 2,089 Millennials throughout the U.S., fewer than three in 10 uninsured individuals said they planned to enroll in Obamacare. By a margin of more than two-to-one, today’s college students and recent graduates said they expect the quality of their own healthcare to worsen as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

That’s a big shift for a constituency that overwhelmingly supported President Obama’s election, both in 2008 and 2012. Harvard’s Institute of Politics found that 54 percent of these Millennials disapprove of President Obama’s job performance (an 11-point drop since April), and that today if those who voted in 2012 to re-elect the President, 17 percent would recast their ballot.

What underlies this shift?

Surely some part is due to the Administration’s poorly handled Obamacare roll-out:  the website’s difficulties; the Newspeak translation of the President’s reassurances that, “if you like your healthcare insurance, you can keep it”; and the late-night talk shows’ rendition of healthcare reform (beginning with Jon Stewart’s Oct. 7 interview roasting Kathleen Sebelius).

But the problem is deeper than that: Millennials who voted for Obama haven’t gotten what they bargained for.

Here’s how Mike Strain interprets today’s jobs report:

The labor force participation rate is down 0.6 percentage points from one year ago, and the rate of employment – the share of the working-age population with jobs – is down 0.1 percentage points from November 2012. Does that sound like a recovery to you?

…The unemployment rate for high school dropouts stands at 10.8%, and 20.8% of young workers are unemployed.

More than one in five young people today who could be working, aren’t. Lesser-skilled workers—the very people Obama campaigned for—are getting hit the hardest. When too many promises are coming up dry, faced with limited job-prospects and an average in $27,500 of student debt, Millennials might not be faulted for wanting to despair.

But they aren’t, says a lovely New York Times op-ed entitled “Millennial Searchers.” Based on a forthcoming study that tracks 397 individuals over time, Emily Smith and Jennifer Aaker suggest that today’s hard times are instead causing 21 to 31 year-olds to seek out “lives of meaning,” rather than individual happiness alone.

That’s an interesting distinction: Millennials are choosing volunteer opportunities and careers that promote others-oriented opportunities—that is, something larger than self.

Whereas older Millennials showed a concern for meaning, the younger Millennials who came of age during the Great Recession started reporting more concern for others, and less interest in material goods.

If the Harvard study is surprisingly disheartening news for the President, this second longitudinal studyoffers a silver lining for the broader culture. Today’s college graduates have been dealt a tough hand. By its design, Obamacare takes from young workers to subsidize healthcare costs of older workers. Coupled with similar patterns in current Social Security, Medicare and other entitlements, we can’t just tinker at the edges to reform these massive programs:  fundamental reform is needed—and that will be painful.

So in an ironic way, we can take heart that today’s Millennials are beginning to face up to the grim realities of Obamacare and the labor market this Administration’s policies have helped create. As the famous phrase goes, today’s twenty-somethings are being “mugged by reality.”

That bodes well for our future.

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