Tapping the state’s youth vote

If you’re a West Virginian 20-24 years old, you are nearly three times as likely to be unemployed as your neighbor in the 45-54 age group. But hey, no worries, it’ll get better, right?

Not much. If you’re 25-34, you are still nearly twice as apt to be without a job as those in the 45-54 bracket.

The numbers are positively scary if you’re under 35. The last unemployment breakdown I found by age group was for 2012. Then, the statewide unemployment rate in the Mountain State was 7.2 percent. For those 20-24 years old, it was 14.7 percent. In the 25-34 bracket, it was 10.4 percent. Meanwhile, those 45-54 years old enjoyed a 5.6 percent rate.

If you happen to be 16-19 years old and in need of a job, be prepared to wear out lots of shoe leather. The 2012 unemployment rate for them was a whopping 18.8 percent.

Any questions about what young West Virginians want to hear from politicians? Could it be that many of them don’t go to the polls because no one in either major party says what they want to hear?

What they want, and what some national-level politicians have figured out, is elected officials who will do something directly about their concerns. Directly as in here’s a job for you, young man or woman, not as in let’s cut taxes so the private sector can create jobs or as in let’s throw some more money into “stimulus.”

This really isn’t rocket science. Why do you think the one aspect of Obamacare politicians agree on is that young people ought to be able to stay on their parents’ health insurance policies until they’re 26?

Many younger West Virginians didn’t sign up for insurance policies under Obamacare because they didn’t need them. About 18,000 under age 26 simply told mom and dad to take care of it. That doesn’t count the tens of thousands of younger West Virginians who got free health insurance via expansion of the Medicaid program.

Interest rates on student loans are another hot-button issue.

Never mind that the problem with student loans isn’t interest rates but the principal – the cost of going to college, in other words. When a politician talks about cutting 1 percent off student loan interest rates, he or she gains instant popularity with both college-age people and those in their 30s who are still paying off loans. Then, of course, when they find out the action shaved less than $20 a month off the payments on their $40,000 loans, they feel cheated.

Again, the problem is the cost of college. Why do you think West Virginia Northern Community College is popular? Because it’s a cheap way to get two years of higher education. Want to be a popular state legislator? Find money to help WVNCC set up a new program.

What are the options for politicians who want the youth vote?

Local officials think a lot about infrastructure – streets, water and sewerage service, etc. Young people take it for granted the water will flow when they turn on the tap. It’s getting a job to pay the water bill – or finding one that pays better – that interests them. Economic development initiatives that pay off in low-wage telemarketing or restaurant jobs frustrate them.

When local government officials talk about housing, they often look for ways to improve the stock of homes in the $150,000 and up range. No, no, no, folks. Think apartment buildings with rent subsidies so young people just starting out can have nice places to live.

Recreation? Trust me on this: You’ll get as many youth votes with a new skate park as you will a multi-million-dollar arena.

At the state level, we worry about lots of important things. Take highway funding, for example. What’s the typical 25-year-old’s reaction? He worries it’s going to cost him more to put gasoline in the car.

Helping create jobs? Again, trust me: The younger folks are just as interested in eliminating obstacles to craft brewers as they are in oil and gas jobs.

Yes, pleasing younger West Virginians is a tall order. But politicians may want to look at it this way: There are about 338,000 Mountain State residents 20-34 years of age. If you can convince them to go to the polls on your behalf, you win.

Mike Myer is executive editor of The Intelligencer and the Wheeling News-Register. He can be reached via e-mail at mmyer@theintelligencer.net