Listening To Young Americans On The Deficit

November 13th, 2009 Francie Grace

You wouldn’t think the bottom line on the $1.6 trillion federal budget deficit and $11.9 trillion national debt crisis could be summed up in a single sentence, but when the right words whizzed by, the Wall Street Journal’s David Wessel was quick to point them out. Words to remember, in a speech by Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office: “The country faces a fundamental disconnect between the services the people expect the government to provide, particularly in the form of benefits for older Americans, and the tax revenues that people are willing to send to the government to finance those services.”

These words underscore the fact that no matter how complicated and increasingly urgent this problem is, it is one which can be understood by most Americans – who can then consider, debate, and decide on options for the best way to reduce the deficit before its sheer weight makes many decisions for us.

Through, and our Students Face Up to the Nation’s Finances interactive curriculum for college students, we’ve been helping people understand the problem, why it matters, and how to get involved in the process of charting a path to fiscal health. This fall, we extended the reach of the Facing Up curriculum to include high school and middle school students, who have been using our learning materials as part of the University of Virginia’s Youth Leadership Initiative program.

Through that partnership, we also got a chance to hear more about how young people feel about the fiscal crisis which is shaping all of our futures. In a mock election held to give students a chance to speak out on a range of issues, 77 percent favored a balanced budget; an increase in the age for Social Security eligibility was supported by 64 percent; and increasing payroll taxes was favored by 53 percent. Reducing Social Security benefits was opposed by 69 percent.

We’ll be hearing a lot more about these issues beginning on Monday, when we start accepting entries for the Students Face Up to the Nation’s Finances contest for students, with $500 prizes for the best essays and best multimedia presentations on the federal budget deficit and national debt and what ought to be done about it. The contest has two divisions - one for college students, and another for high school students – and all will have a chance to comment on and discuss each other’s ideas.

December 11 is the entry deadline; click here to see the full contest rules. Students Face Up to the Nation’s Finances, a nonpartisan curriculum available at, is available to users free of charge thanks to a grant from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

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  • John Adams
    College kids speak up! we are right with you!