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Young Voters Are More Concerned With the Economy. That’s Bad for Biden

(Bloomberg) -- They’re weighed down by student debt. They’re shut out of the housing market. They’re hit by higher costs of living. And they want President Joe Biden to listen.

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At a time when Donald Trump is cutting into Biden’s 2020 advantage with young adults, the growing list of grievances among those between the ages 18-29 is a worrying sign for Biden as he seeks a second term.

People in that age cohort are more than twice as likely to cite the economy as their top concern compared with older adults in recent Gallup data. And while all voters are more worried about the economy now than they were heading into the 2020 presidential election, the pessimism has spiked the most among those under 30.

That concern is being reflected in polls. Trump is currently leading the president 47% to 40% with voters 18-34 in swing states, according to a March Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll. By contrast, Biden won 61% of voters under 30 last cycle.

Though the November election is months off and attitudes can shift, there’s no doubt Biden will need support from Generation Z and Millennial voters to win.

Incumbents get the blame when voters are dissatisfied with the economy. The challenge for Biden is that even though economic growth has been solid in the past year, the job market is robust and the inflation rate is cooling, polls after polls show many people don’t feel like it.

Younger Americans have a long list of headwinds: stunted action on student-loan forgiveness, the highest interest rates since they’ve been in diapers and expensive rents.

Older Americans, who are more likely to live in houses they own with low mortgage rates and who have benefited from years of housing and stock market appreciation, are less pessimistic about the economy. The contrasting way generations emerged financially from the coronavirus pandemic may provide a playbook for Biden on how to hone his political message to young adults.

Christian Martin, a 22-year-old college senior from Atlanta, Georgia, said he hasn’t yet felt the impact of Biden’s economic policies. He’s worried about making student-loan payments after he graduates while keeping up with the elevated costs of living.

“If Biden can address the issues that the youth are feeling, then the turnout can be stronger than what it’s projected to be,” he said in an interview. “This is Biden’s chance to hear what we have to say, because that’s essentially all it is, you know, unfulfilled promises.”

Read More: Biden Forgave Billions in Student Debt. Poll Shows It’s Not Enough For Gen Z

Biden’s plan to forgive billions of dollars in student debt was struck down last year by the Supreme Court, which rejected one of his signature initiatives as exceeding his power.

“The President is fighting to lower costs for young Americans — forgiving student debt, lowering health and eliminating junk fees,” Seth Schuster, a Biden campaign spokesperson, said by e-mail. “Meanwhile, Donald Trump appointed the Supreme Court Justices who denied student-debt relief and ensured that young people now have less rights than the generations before them.”

In a statement, Trump campaign spokesperson Karoline Leavitt said that “President Trump will create a safe, prosperous, and free nation that helps all young people achieve their American Dream.”

The pandemic upended the economy when young voters were just entering adulthood, endangering their job prospects as businesses locked down and complicating their housing options as rents skyrocketed.

“They had a more severe impact of Covid itself in a direct economic way,” said Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Newhouse director of Tufts University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. “Whether it’s gas, or housing, or rent or health care, they’re having a really hard time having affordability for that because of the lack of stored wealth.”

Inflation has eased significantly in the past year, including for necessities such as food. Adults under 35 have grown less downbeat over the last few months about their financial situations, according to the University of Michigan Consumer’s sentiment index — and their sentiment is higher than older people, although historically that’s usually the case.

But prices remain considerably higher than they were before the 2020 election. And while wages have grown for all age groups in recent years, young adults have the lowest earnings in addition to having fewer assets.

Much of those wage increases have also been eaten up by higher rent costs, which rose about 18% between October 2020 and January 2024, according to Redfin. Buying a property is increasingly out of reach for many young adults, with home prices up 21% over the same period, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Swing-state voters ages 18-34 are more likely than any other age cohort to list housing costs as important for their vote in 2024, according to the Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll.

Debt is also souring some younger Americans’ views about the economy, according to EY Chief Economist Gregory Daco. Adults in their twenties and thirties have higher rates of credit-card debt that have deepened into serious delinquency, meaning the debt is 90 days or more past due, according to data from the New York Fed.

Many young adults are making payments on federal student debt that they had hoped would be forgiven by Biden’s plan. The White House has used more narrow methods to approve nearly $144 billion in forgiveness, targeting specific groups, including those with disabilities, some former for-profit college students and public servants who have been paying their loans for years.

Student loans and rent prices weigh on Ariela Lara, an 18-year-old high school senior from San Leandro, California, as she debates which college to attend. Lara said her family cannot afford to take on debt, so she will attend the school that offers her the most in aid.

“As I’ve been getting into this world of adulthood, it’s hard to achieve financial stability in our country,” she said, adding that climate change and the economy are her top issues as she considers her first vote in a presidential election. “We’re telling Biden to wake up and to start saying that he needs the youth vote. He needs us immensely.”

--With assistance from Christian Hall.

(Adds consumer sentiment index in 16th paragraph.)

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