Many of the forces affecting the economy today come to bear hardest on young people starting out in life: the soaring cost of a college education; the difficulty in finding jobs that provide a middle-class income; lack of health insurance coverage; the long escalation in housing prices; and the conflicts between the demands of work and family life.
We need a New Deal for the young -- a Young America program -- that can help young people cope with those challenges. At least part of that program ought to draw on the lesson of the GI Bill. Americans will be ready to be more generous to the young if the beneficiaries have demonstrated responsibility and contributed something through their own efforts. The United States no longer needs to draft or recruit most of its youth into military service. But we could make national service, whether civilian or military, a routine experience, for some in their late teens and for others after college. And, in return, we could help them to deal with the responsibilities of paying for their education, first homes, health coverage, and the rising costs of raising children.
A Young America program would not provide something for nothing. Like the GI Bill and Social Security, its benefits would be earned. And because of its focus on youth, it would be a way of helping Americans, individually and collectively, become more productive as well as more secure.
The premise of a Young America program would be the inclusive conception of freedom and power that are at the core of modern liberalism. An increasingly unequal America that exposes so many of its young to poverty and insecurity cannot be the strong and prosperous nation all Americans want it to be. Government can be the means for expanding the horizon of freedom, creating opportunity, and making a society both more powerful and more just. The world used to think of America as a country where the young had possibilities unmatched anywhere else. The United States could be that country again.
This is just the kind of thinking that we need. We need to expand opportunities, not restrict them.