The U.S. is headed in the wrong direction – and young people are most affected
Updated 14:25, 24-Aug-2022
Bradley Blankenship
The White House in Washington, D.C., the U.S., August 18, 2022. /CFP

The White House in Washington, D.C., the U.S., August 18, 2022. /CFP

Editor's note: Bradley Blankenship is a Prague-based American journalist, political analyst and freelance reporter. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

A new NBC poll revealed what most Americans know to be true: we are deeply dissatisfied with the state of our country. The poll found that 74 percent of Americans feel the country is headed in the wrong direction and, moreover, a record 58 percent said that the country's best years were behind it. Even 61 percent said they were so upset they'd be willing to carry a protest sign for a day.

The top issues were listed as threats to democracy, cost of living, jobs and the economy, immigration, climate change, guns, abortion, crime, "other" and the coronavirus. Predictably, these vary by partisan affiliation, but they nonetheless reflect the myriad of issues facing Americans.

Having just concluded a rather long trip in the country last month, I can say that this poll is not some abstract reflection of Americans' hidden fears. It is quite out in the open as literally every person without exception, be it friends, family, service workers or just complete strangers, that I encountered went on similar rants about how everything is wrong. And, of course, I experienced that myself while I was there.

I was minutes away from witnessing a shooting (and there was a mass shooting on that same block just two weeks after I left). I saw basic public infrastructure collapse under extreme weather conditions and I also contracted COVID-19. To say the least, it was not a pleasant experience.

Yet, there were some moments of reprieve. That was most notably when my parents showed me their new million-dollar house in a ritzy suburb. There, the problems facing the country seem completely alien and almost irrelevant. There were no shootings, no omnipresent police or visible poverty.

My father, who just retired several years ago, comes from a humble background. To my knowledge, the Blankenship family have been predominantly farmers for generations. My father worked as a delivery driver for Pepsi for 40 years, getting his starting contract in October 1980. He was able to build his wealth through a 401k, helped by his company, and secured a decent pension.

Screen grab from a handout video shows emergency personnel carrying a stretcher following a shooting at Peck Park, San Pedro, Los Angeles, California, the U.S., July 24, 2022. /Reuters

Screen grab from a handout video shows emergency personnel carrying a stretcher following a shooting at Peck Park, San Pedro, Los Angeles, California, the U.S., July 24, 2022. /Reuters

Reflecting on this, I asked him yesterday if he thought young people starting in his same position could ever reach his success, and his answer was that "it's going to be harder for young people today because no companies offer pensions anymore," including his. Indeed, my Dad's contract was secured thanks to his union – and that was before the anti-union movement swept through Kentucky and the rest of the country later in the 1980s.

My Dad, in many ways, represents to me the now-dead American Dream. He was able to secure a decent life and accumulate modest wealth, becoming one of the rarefied labor millionaires, by just working at one job for his entire career. (Of course, that did come at the expense of his body because he is legally disabled now). But such a situation is impossible now and things are not so simple.

When discussing the direction of the country, it's important to take into account young people's experiences because they are living in the current labor paradigm and feeling the crunch of inflation more than older generations. This is why President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party consistently campaign for young voters, who, to their credit, have historically been one of the party's surest voting blocs.

Biden has assured the country writ large that his administration is getting the country back on track – yet voters are left unconvinced. The NBC poll found him at a dismal 42 percent August approval rating and other polls, broken down by age, consistently show that Biden's approval with younger voters has plummeted since taking office.

That should not come as any particular surprise given the fact, for example, that Biden promised federal student loan forgiveness and yet continually kicks the can down the road. Younger people are also more averse to military adventurism, especially at the cost of much-needed social programs, and have been disappointed by Biden's promise to end "forever wars" and yet by his hawkish foreign policy. The list of broken promises is seemingly endless.

Even the next generation of voters are already being let down before they've come of age. For one example, public education in America is facing a crisis: a lack of funds coupled with a severe shortage of staff, driven both by politics and the pandemic. Some Texas school districts are cutting back to a 4-day school week and Florida is recruiting military veterans without higher education background to fill in.

By continually setting young people up to fail, the country is undoubtedly headed down the wrong path. Politicians in Washington must focus on the interests of younger generations in order to change course.

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