Many argue that the upcoming election is the most important one of our time, for it will decide what path this nation takes: one of dependence on the government during hard times or one where the free-market rules uninterrupted. This election will not only state the role of government in people's lives, but it will also have wide-ranging implications for teens. The $16 trillion debt that has been accumulated over the last couple of decades will fall on them. According to a recent Gallup poll, almost 60 percent of Americans believe that the children of today will have less opportunity than adults have had in the past.
One of the largest problems students today face is the high cost of college. A college education could cost anywhere up to $60,000, about four times more expensive than it was 20 to 30 years ago. Student debt topped $1 trillion recently, and families across the nation are forced to choose between college and less financially demanding methods, such as skipping college altogether.
The presidential candidates are somewhat split on this issue. The Republican presidential candidate and former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney believes that in order to reduce costs, colleges should cut administrative staffs and teachers. He claims unions are a big contributor to high college costs, considering that union leaders strive to get the best pay for teachers, even if they may not all be well-performing.
On the other hand, Democratic President Obama believes that further federal spending on education will bring costs down and that more student aid packages will be beneficial. The president also has proposed financially penalizing colleges that raise costs too high.
In a general sense, Romney believes that education is a state and local matter, while Obama feels that education is so fundamental to the American system that the federal government must have a significant role. Government spending on education, particularly public school education, is at an all-time high in this country, increasing 138 percent since 1985. Despite this federal support, American students are falling behind much of the industrialized world in terms of reading, writing, arithmetic and science.
One aspect of college affordability that both candidates and major parties agree on is the issue of student loans. Back in July, in an uncommon act of compromise, Obama and congressional Republicans agreed on a bill that would keep interest rates on federal student loans at 3.4 percent. Despite the $6 billion cost, politicians in Washington agreed to help college students nationwide be able to reasonably pay back their college loans and not be saddled with debt.
The issue of jobs also is close to the heart of many teens in Western New York and across the country. The unemployment rate for teens is 24 percent, which is 16 percentage points higher than the national average. Romney is arguing that this administration's policies are killing jobs and that he would enact a pro-growth or pro-business plan if he becomes president. Republicans like himself also argue for less stringent work requirements for younger Americans. While they argue that harsh child labor laws kill teen jobs, Democrats would remind the country that children were once exploited by employers in this country and fear that this could happen again.
Unlike the rest of the electorate, according to polling, teens are highly engaged by social issues, such as abortion and gay rights.
Emily Shanahan, a 19-year-old college student at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, says she does not plan on voting for Obama.
"The most important issue to me would be jobs and the economy, and I am greatly concerned about getting a job after college," she said.
She added that these types of issues are paramount for her because they directly affect her life.
She said most young people don't follow politics at all and just cling to the issues that are prevalent in their own world. On the issue of teen jobs, Emily mentioned that in Obama's economy, it took her more than three months to find a job but eventually landed one at Wegmans. Addressing the issue of America possibly being in decline, she said, "that's scary," and stated that she may indeed move out of the States if necessary to find work.
Jordan Grossman, a 17-year-old senior at Williamsville North High School, plans to attend college next year and thinks that the president's policies will be best for his future. Jordan, like the president, thinks that college tuition should be capped by the federal government in order to ensure that all Americans at least have the opportunity to afford college, but he also agrees with the notion that colleges should work internally to cut costs. On the issue of the economy, he agrees with the Obama administration's support for higher taxes for the rich, saying, "People like Donald Trump should indeed be taxed at a much higher rate."
He went on to say that he is trying to find work, but the economy is sadly in a slump.
Gay marriage is the most important issue to Jordan because he views it as a civil rights issue.
"With our generation, gay subjects tend to be a big issue I think because kids constantly are finding something to rebel against in order to diverge from the common wisdom," he said.
Jordan believes America is on the decline and will soon cease to be a superpower.
"Honestly, this election won't make much difference because other countries like China seem to be on the rise, and I may soon see myself living abroad in 20 years to go where the work is," he said.
Ryan Hillery is a junior who serves as the president of Canisius High School's Young Republicans Club. He says he is most concerned about the national deficit and gay marriage policies.
"If the president gets re-elected, he will try to legalize gay marriage in every state, and then there will be no hope for traditional marriage," he said. "In my opinion, teens are brainwashed by the likes of Hollywood and Lady Gaga to think that the gay lifestyle is not detrimental to the family unit."
He said that since teens don't live in the real world and don't have to worry about taxes or anything, they are more prone to attach themselves to social issues.
On the deficit, Ryan argues that the president's accumulation of debt is unbelievable. "I honestly think our generation has a bleak future because we are the ones who have to pay all this money back."
Ryan eventually wants to study medicine, but he added that he fears the president's health care law and how it will affect the future of medicine in this country.
"Even though I wasn't with Romney completely at the beginning, I am a dedicated supporter now because I think he is just what we desperately need to get this country back on track," Ryan said.
Waleed Malik, a 17-year-old senior at Sweet Home High School who plans to attend college next year, is undecided in this election season. The issue that would sway him is military and education spending.
"I believe military spending should be dramatically lowered and education spending increased," he said. "The foreign countries that are supposed threats, like China and Russia, depend on us economically, so we need not fear."
In terms of education, he believes that the United States cannot afford to continue to fall behind other countries and added, "The government definitely needs to direct education funding more properly."
Waleed also disagrees with the president that everyone should strive to go to college. "What if we had all doctors but no plumbers?" he asked. "Going to college is a privilege, and it is just not meant for some people."
Furthermore, Waleed believes that either of the two candidates' economic plans would work, if they are given the appropriate time to do so. "The problem is that Americans are so impatient sometimes and demand answers and solutions immediately."
Waleed seems to be more optimistic and believes that a superpower such as America will have a hard time failing.
Andrew LaMartina, a 15-year-old junior at Canisius High School, is a big supporter of the president, claiming that he is helping the economy slowly but surely.
"Mitt Romney was the premier outsourcer of jobs when he was in the private sector, and I foresee that continuing if he gets elected," Andrew said.
He is also very passionate about gay rights, saying, "I think more young voters are accepting of different lifestyles, so I think great progress is being made under this administration."
Andrew believes that the president's Affordable Care Act is noble because he believes every American is entitled to health insurance. Additionally, Andrew, who plans to attend the University at Buffalo, is very concerned about the rising cost of college, but he does not agree with the president that capping college tuition for certain universities is the way to go.
Andrew believes the bottom line is that the country is better off than it was four years ago, and there is no reason to change course now.
Much of what is being debated in the world of politics now will mostly affect the next generation of Americans. Do America's young people agree with Obama's or Romney's vision? We will find out on Tuesday.
Michael Khan is a junior at Canisius High School.