11/27/2012 11:52 am ET Updated Jan 26, 2013

What the Fiscal Slope Means for Young Americans

Whether we call it a fiscal slope, a fiscal showdown, or maybe just a big fiscal mess, the end of the year will likely bring major changes in both revenue and spending policies in the United States. Without intervention, the changes will include both tax cut expirations and automatic cuts in defense and nondefense discretionary spending known as "sequestration." These cuts would have very real consequences in the lives of young people across the country.

What do budget negotiations have to do with youth? Everything.

First, young people have a lot to gain from investments in education - and a lot to lose from cuts to it. Sequestration would mean less money for students, teachers, and schools. Although Pell Grants would be exempt from the first round of cuts, other kinds of assistance for low-income students would not be so lucky. Funding for Federal Work Study programs would be cut, as well as funding for programs that help first generation college-goers access education.

Unemployment is also a critical issue for youth today. Sixteen to twenty-four year olds have an unemployment rate of 16 percent - double the national rate - and it's even higher for Latino and African American youth (17 and 26.7 percent, respectively). With sequestration, youth job programs that are working to fight unemployment, like YouthBuild and Job Corps, would see millions of dollars in cuts. AmeriCorps, the national service program that creates 80,000 youth jobs each year, could lose nearly $40 million with sequestration. That's fewer jobs for young people at a time when youth unemployment is already soaring.

Finally, many young people are part of families and communities that would take the greatest hit from cuts to the safety net. Cuts in "nondefense discretionary spending" may sound vague or unimportant, but they mean less money for housing assistance, nutrition programs, home heating assistance, and other services that many low-income communities rely on.

In other words, questions as vitally important as "can I afford to go to college," "can I find a job," or even "can I keep the heat on" are impacted by the deals being negotiated in the next few months. As a country, we have to consider what kind of values we want to guide our decisions about the national budget. At People For the American Way Foundation's Young People For program, we believe that the solution must involve wealthy people paying their fair share in taxes so that the cuts can be avoided. The solution cannot rest on the backs of those who are already most vulnerable.

And that includes many young people. On Election Day, we saw young people organize and turn out en masse because they care about, and want to have a say in, the issues facing this country and shaping the opportunities available to them - from education to healthcare to jobs. Young people would be among the hardest hit by sequestration, with cuts that would affect their daily lives and those of their families and communities. But as we saw on November 6, youth are not afraid to show up and speak out loud and clear about what kind of country they would like to live in.