Enough of the Healthcare Debate, Focus on Jobs and the Economy

Millennials are sick of the healthcare debate. Get us working!

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By Brandon Greife, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

For much of the past 18 months I've felt like a child of the 1950s--up early on a Saturday morning staring at a test pattern on the television screen and waiting, praying, for a new show to begin. Healthcare reform has been my test pattern. It has dominated the news. From headlines to the airwaves, from water coolers to coffee shops, and from Glenn Beck's chalkboard to Keith Olbermann's Hall of Shame, young Americans have heard a million different arguments made a million different ways.

Frankly, we're tired of it. A recent CBS News poll found that strong majorities of Americans disapproved of the way both Republicans (64 percent) and Democrats (60 percent) handled the healthcare debate. Even more telling, the survey found that 46 percent of Americans believe that Congress spent too much time on healthcare while only 19 percent think they spent the right amount of time.

As the healthcare debate went into triple overtime Americans were wondering when the government would get back to creating jobs. At the very least we were wondering when we could get back to the March pastime of watching hours of basketball without the slightest feeling of obligation to have C-SPAN in our picture-in-picture.

After all, President Obama made it a point to spend two-thirds of his State of the Union address talking about the economy. He stressed the urgency of the situation saying:

"One in ten Americans still cannot find work. Many businesses have shuttered. Home values have declined. . . . For these Americans and so many others, change has not come fast enough. . . . That is why jobs must be our number one focus in 2010 . . ."

This reflects the view of most young adults, a group which has been hit especially hard by the failing economy. Numbers from a recent Harvard Institute of Politics poll show the palpable fear of many millennials. For instance, 45 percent rate their personal financial situation as very bad or fairly bad, 60 percent are worried about their ability to pay their current bills, and 58 percent are worried about affording a place to live. Perhaps most worrisome of all, less than half of all 18-29 year-olds feel they will live the "American Dream"--being better off financially than their parents.

The problem with the single-minded push for healthcare reform is the time-sensitive nature of young adult's need for jobs. As Yale economist Lisa Kahn found in her study of youth employment trends, "workers who graduate in bad economies are unable to fully shift into better jobs after the economy picks up." This job lag leads to depressed income over the course of a lifetime.

Now, I don't dare attempt to interpret recent healthcare polls. Some show majorities want it appealed, others show most people want Republicans to keep fighting the bill. I'm sure a poll somewhere shows that a majority of people want the public option back. But while I can't divine the nation's conflicted healthcare mood, I can say that young adults are still worried about their future. Many of us are unsure about whether healthcare reform will ultimately be good or bad, whether it will reduce the deficit or add another IOU to the pile, but we are sure that we need jobs. And we need them now.

We've been staring at a healthcare test pattern for too long. We've been waiting, albeit less than patiently, for some help in this economy. It is now time for President Obama to return to the promise he made in his State of the Union. It's time for jobs to be the number one focus. It's time to return to our regularly scheduled programming.