My uncle, a journeyman carpenter, would tell me when working on a job with him, "Even if you don't know what to do, just hammering nails into the wall is better than doing nothing. There's no wrong way to start to get to work."
So when I think about President Barack Obama's first 100 days, I've got to give the man credit for banging through a bunch of controversial issues.
--he's issued an order to close Guantanamo
--he's reached out to Cuba after years of embargo
--he's stopped raiding legitimate medical marijuana sellers.
And then there's the huge stimulus package. Clearly, Obama's been busy.
But this is a president who inspired a lot of my generation not only to vote for him, but also to participate in the democratic process period. So 100 days in, the question is: Are youth still at the top of his agenda?
I'm not so sure.
Youth issues don't even have their own "report card." So let's do one.
Youth Radio contacted the National Policy Director of the Roosevelt Institution, Caitlin Howarth. Located in Washington, DC, Roosevelt is a network of student think tanks from college campuses around the country.
“The administration is no longer as tuned in to the way the youth movement is headed on a day-to-day basis," Howarth said. "That's not surprising considering the magnitude of the other crises at hand...But at the same time, there's a very absent voice of young people at the table...Young people want to be there for the process, they don't want to be there just for the photo-op occasions.”
Howarth says one top issue for young people that matches Mr. Obama's overall agenda so far is health care. Earlier this year he signed a law expanding coverage for millions of children. But still, more than 8 million are uninsured. And even when kids aren't the ones getting sick, if the family doesn't have benefits, and dad gets hurt, or mom needs an operation, everyone suffers -- including the kids.
Another top issue for Young America's Report Card is education. Melody Barnes, the Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, convened a conference call this week titled, "President Obama's Work on Behalf of Young Americans." Barnes spoke to college newspaper editors about the administration's improvements to Pell Grants, which many students depend on to afford college.
“If you count the American Recovery Reinvestment Act and the budget, in addition to the work he's doing on lending issues...he's also going to provide 200 million in Pell Grant scholarships and tax credits over next decade. What he started in the Recovery Act with an emphasis on the Pell system with an emphasis on tax credits and the Pell system, he wants to make that more permanent and solid over the next ten years.”
Still, getting $500 extra a year doesn't exactly cover tuition for most students. And besides, I can't help but notice certain inconsistencies. The government is bailing banks out of their shady loans, but no one's talking about forgiving student loans at that kind of rate.
Employment for young people
So education, health care and jobs are at the top of Young America's Report Card on the Obama presidency. President Obama is making a major investment in green jobs and workforce, and he's increased funding and incentives for national service jobs like Americorps. But on the street level, teenagers are facing unemployment rising at almost twice the rate of the nation as a whole. Mayra Jimenez, 17, doubts the president can turn that around soon.
“I don't think we are going to see a change right away because it takes a while to see more jobs available. My brother...he hasn't been able to find a job, he's looked at agencies and tried to get people to refer him for a job and... can't seem to get (one). It's not really anyone's fault, it's just that there aren't enough anymore...Obama is trying to fix things, but he can't take care of everything at once.”
While Obama can probably do a better job looking after young people, who according to CIRCLE supported him by 66%, 100 days is by no means a sufficient amount of time to heal our nations many ails. So whatever "grades" Obama does receive, we should keep in mind that this is more like a progress report, rather than a report card.