SOUTH EUCLID — The environment is a trendy issue among young voters, but it’s old-fashioned pocketbook issues that get the attention of 20-somethings who have already entered the work force.
For high school teacher Kevin Jaketic and his wife, Tara, the way that presidential candidates address the economy, job creation and health care will determine who gets their support in 2008.
Jaketic, 29, who intends to vote for a Democrat but doesn’t yet have a favorite, places an emphasis on education too, for obvious reasons.
“It’s even more important to me now because I have a little one,” he said as 5-month old Jordan cooed in her mother’s lap. “It’s not just what I think is best for other people’s kids, but it’s what I think is best for my own child.”
David Smith, 27, executive director of youth-vote advocacy group Mobilize.org, believes the environment will be a mobilizing issue for young people.
“They’re interested in seeing their communities respond to climate change,” Smith said. “The main thing this generation is starting to wake up around … is the long-term impact of many of these short-term perspectives that are coming out of public policy.
“Young people are saying we’re going to inherit a complete mess if we don’t stand up and do something about this now.”
That may apply to the collegiate voter, but many of those already in the work force, particularly in an economically downtrodden state such as Ohio, have more immediate concerns.
The state has been among those hit hard by the foreclosure crisis in part because of the loss of manufacturing jobs.
Unemployment was 10.2 percent among Ohioans ages 20-24 and 5.7 percent for those ages 25-34 in 2006 compared with 8.2 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively, for the nation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“The employment situation continues to be bad and it’s taking longer and longer for people to get jobs,” said John Russo, a labor studies professor at Youngstown State University. “At the same time, they’re getting jobs below their educational level. Because of the economy, older people are working longer. As a result of that, younger people aren’t getting jobs as quickly as they did before.”
Jaketic, who teaches government and social studies, is skeptical of whether anybody besides Al Gore is really dedicated to the environmental issue. Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize for drawing attention to the dangers of global warming.
“The environment is the sexy topic right now, but I just don’t see any administration doing a whole lot about it no matter who takes over,” Jaketic said.
Jaketic says it’s tough to get young people interested in politics and doubts young voters will be more motivated and make a difference in 2008.
“I see it almost as a lost cause. You may have a little bit of an increase,” Jaketic said. “I just think it’s apathy and I’m part of it.
“If it doesn’t affect you and your immediate surroundings, unless you know somebody that’s going to the war, and even with $3-a-gallon gas, it’s not that big of a deal to the youth in general.”
Although the U.S. Census Bureau reports the nation’s youngest generation has seen larger increases in both voter registration and participation since 2000 than any other age group, the under-30s still lag their elders.
Rashaun Holliman, 27 of Canal Winchester, is an example of that increase.
He’s involved with his first presidential campaign, inspired by John Kerry’s loss to President Bush in 2004. Holliman has worked to get petitions signed to put Sen. Barack Obama on the primary ballot in Ohio.
“I’ve always said I was going to do it. This was the first time I felt strongly enough to get involved,” said Holliman, director of Focus Learning Academy, a Columbus charter school that helps teens and young adults entering the work force to earn their diplomas.
“Young working people like myself, I have seen people energized and excited,” he said. “It has a lot to do with him (Obama). There’s a yearning for someone willing to work across party lines and work with others that aren’t like them.
“The younger generation seems to want to work with others. We can see past differences. That’s what we need from the leader of our country.”
Education is Holliman’s biggest concern, particularly students’ performance.
“The fact that Barack Obama says he’s willing to give teachers bonuses based on the success of their students — I think that’s needed,” he said. “Education could learn something from business.”
Troy Bratz, 29, president of the Cuyahoga County Young Democrats, hopes he can attract more young voters with issues such as funding for higher education and energy conservation.
However, Bratz, who works at the Parma Public Housing Agency in the blue-collar suburb, knows the financial issues still dominate.
“It’s still going to go back to what people can get for their dollar,” he said. “There’s plenty of people who have degrees in business and teaching, and those jobs are just not available these days.”