When the coalition first announced the tripling of university tuition fees to £9,000 a year in 2011, they sparked protests across the country. To our friends across the pond, that figure must’ve seemed laughably slight.
Unlike in the UK, American student loans are often non-governmental and increasingly secured, meaning they can leave a black mark on your credit rating and creditors can lay claim to your financial assets if you can’t keep up with repayments.
The class of 2015 owes an average of $35,000, and with wages stagnant and living costs rising, it’s no surprise that a lot of young people feel they’ve been sold down the river: $35 grand is double what a graduate would’ve had to pay back twenty years ago, even adjusting for inflation. They’re under no illusions- for the majority of those under 30, the American Dream (or even doing slightly better than your parents) is dead in the water.
For this overeducated, underemployed, and overwhelmingly Democratic voting cohort, Bernie Sanders made a compelling case for president. He made student loans a core policy of his campaign, and his genuine concern for issues around income inequality were a big draw for young voters for whom jobs and the economy are the most important issues.
Some found Hillary’s domination in the primaries a bitter pill to swallow, staging a sit-in at the Democratic National Convention in July when she was announced as the official candidate.
It didn’t bring Bernie back, but it’s certainly shifted Clinton’s campaign leftwards, borrowing his plan to make college debt-free for all and advocating an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. With the proportion of voting aged people under 30 surpassing that of baby boomers for the first time this election cycle, it’s a smooth maneuver. Their concentration in swing states compounds their potential power.
But will they vote? As Remain campaigners here in Britain know only too well, enthusiastic Facebook likes don’t necessarily translate into enthusiastic trips to the polling booth, or even remembering to put your name on the register. Young people tend to have the lowest turnout of any demographic, feeling powerless in the face of a system that feels arcane and difficult to navigate.
Hillary’s position in the ‘establishment’- particularly the Clinton Foundation’s ties to for-profit colleges - mean she will have to work extra hard to convince them that it’s worth it.