Arianna Mendez – FL, Florida International University 2014 Masters Degree, Bio
As I am writing this short piece, a Malaysian airliner was downed by a missile strike, and Israel launched a ground invasion of Gaza. These two news stories seem unrelated, but they actually illustrate the changing global paradigm. The United States is struggling to deal with a recalcitrant Russia, violent Hamas, and rising China. President’s Obama’s strategy of leading from behind has emboldened our enemies and discouraged our allies.
Assad continues to terrorize the Syrian people, and the situation in Iraq is disintegrating less than three years since the US turned over control to the Iraqi government. Russia has essentially annexed Crimea and has proposed to reopen a Soviet Era spy post in Cuba as it continues to expand its influence in Latin America.
China continues to grow as a hegemonic power in Asia and has recently increased military spending suggesting an interest in becoming more of a global player. The United States needs to define its role internationally or face the consequences of inaction and nuance.
On the home front, the United States economy continues to be anemic. Nineteen million Americans are unemployed, underemployed, or have given up looking for work. The number of Americans in the labor force is at a low not seen since the Carter administration. Americans seem to agree that the economy is not heading in the right direction.
According to Gallup, 57 percent of Americans say the economy is getting worse. In addition, to high unemployment and general dissatisfaction with the economy, the rising national debt (now at $17 trillion) is an albatross around our necks. In order for the United States, to continue to be a major global player we must reinvigorate our economy and get our fiscal house in order.
On a personal level, it is disheartening to observe how misinformed the average millennial voter actually is. We are probably the best connected and technologically advanced generation in history, but we have a very limited understanding of the workings of government.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.” Democracy works best when citizens are informed and are civically engaged. Regardless if you vote Republican, Democrat, or Independent, we must be informed and be part of the process.
The unfortunate truth is America will continue to face these issues well beyond 2014. The political, economic, and social significance of not addressing these problems will jeopardize the interests of not only the United States, but our allies around the world, because as goes America goes the world.
Nana Osei – SC, College of Charleston Student, Bio
First, the most urgent issue facing America is immigration control. The border has been extremely vulnerable with mass amounts of immigrants illegally sneaking into our country. Within the past few months over 50,000 unaccompanied minors have illegally entered America.
Aside from minors, officials in Texas have caught over 200,000 illegal persons of age. With over 250,000 illegal aliens intruding the nation within four months, this is the most urgent and pressing issue to be dealt with.
President Obama requested $3.7 billion to address the boarder issue. This money would pay for health care, schooling, and lawyers for the illegal immigrant minors.
His large request will most likely not pass through the House of Representatives with re-elections upcoming, and with Republicans holding the house.
The House would like to lower the amount of money by close to half the amount requested, closer to $1 billion and change some policies. This will take time leaving these aliens in limbo. Controlling the in fluxion of illegal immigrants should be the government’s top priority.
The second urgent issue is what is occurring in Europe. Russia has continued to pursue attacks on Ukraine. Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by so-called Russian rebels, and a mere six days later two Ukrainian military jets were shot down over eastern Ukraine.
There have been clear militaristic invasion by Russia onto the Ukraine. Although they have been blamed on Russian rebels, at a point Russia must be held accountable. President Obama must work closer with Putin to control these rebel attacks.
Russia has already threatened to drop the U.S. dollar as their reserve currency. Obama and Putin need to meet in person to discuss how many sanctions will be implemented on Russia and just how serious and involved Putin is in the Ukraine.
The final of the three top urgent issues is the state of our economy. The IMF projects growth will be at a 1.7 percent this year down from an estimated 2 percent in June. That would make 2014 the weakest economic growth year since the recession in 2009.
There are many reasons for why the economy is not growing at the projected rate. I would say the first issue is the Affordable Care Act.
It has been hurting the economy severely this past year with its uncertainty in the courts. On Tuesday the 22nd of July two Federal appeal courts made extremely conflicting decisions about the ACA.
With two appeal courts having opposite decisions on the same matter, the IRS is over-stepping their boundaries. Hopefully the case will be fast tracked to the Supreme Court, and they will hear the case within the next year.
If the case makes it to the Supreme Court and loses, the ACA would have been a waste of millions of dollars and time. President Obama would have to take full responsibility as he signed the Act into law with zero GOP votes in 2010.
Pete Vujovich – MN, University of Minnesota 2011 Graduate, Bio
In terms of the long term planning of the US economy, the most pressing issue needs to be the rising cost of higher education. A college degree is now a necessity for job seekers and with student loan debt quickly approaching $1.2 trillion, the federal government needs to step in to prevent another economic collapse.
To do this, the federal government needs to look to the states to see what can be done. West Virginia has created a program where anyone with a “B” average and a 22 ACT score will receive a $4,750/year scholarship if they stay in state for college. (ACT was originally an abbreviation for American College Testing and is now a standardized test for college readiness.)
Oregon is working on a program to allow students to pay a percentage of their income for many years, instead of the standard tuition and fee structure. There are many solutions to the issue, but not addressing it will cause the next economic downturn.
We are already seeing effects of high student loan debt on the economy. Recent college graduates are much less likely to buy a home or car than they were ten years ago. The average student loan debt is $29,400 per borrower, and many graduates simply cannot afford a mortgage or car loan.
This is what is slowing the economic recovery. A whole generation of people is entering the workforce unable to buy a home. To blame the slow recovery on anything else misses the point that our economy is driven by our educational system, and we are nearing the point where a quality education is not attainable by many Americans.
Another incredibly important issue is the refusal by so many states to accept the expansion of Medicaid. This trend is particularly troubling in areas of the South, where poverty rates are much higher than the rest of the country. Uninsured rates in the South stand at 21%, compared to 14% in the Midwest immediately to the North.
Refusing to expand Medicaid means denying affordable coverage to people who make less than $11,490 per year. These are the people the law stands to benefit the most, and they are being denied health coverage due solely to political reasoning. The era of compassionate conservatism is long gone.
While there are many issues very urgent to Americans, one that must take precedent is gridlock in Congress. The antics of Senators and Congressmen over the past four years have left Americans longing for the days of the “Do Nothing Congress.”
This gridlock leaves our nation unable to respond to issues like the rising cost of higher education, immigration reform, and the crises in Ukraine, Syria, and Iraq. No individual political party is to blame; both are responsible for the situation we find ourselves in.
Paul Bremmer – Wash D.C., St. Bonaventure University 2012 Graduate, Bio
There is one issue that towers above all others in importance right now, and that is the invasion of illegal immigrants across our southern border. It’s been a major problem for a few decades, but it has become even more dangerous in the past month because illegal children are now being used to stir up sympathy for border crossers and support for amnesty.
The truth is the recent surge of illegals included more than just innocent children; there were also gang members, drug dealers, rapists, and other adult criminals in the mix. People like that pose a danger to the country as long as they remain here.
The illegal immigration problem is so lethal because it can destroy the country in multiple ways. First, there is the simple issue of overpopulation. Second, mass immigration puts a strain on our public services – some of which the illegal aliens may use legally, and some of which they acquire fraudulently.
Third, because most illegals are relatively poor and uneducated, they take low-skilled jobs away from American citizens, causing higher unemployment and depressed wages for lower-skilled Americans.
Fourth, there is the cultural issue. Illegal Latin American immigrants have an unfortunate tendency not to assimilate as well as European immigrants of the past. Many of them hold no allegiance to or respect for the United States. Given enough time, they may turn large portions of the U.S. into ethnic enclaves that resemble their Third World homelands rather than the United States.
In short, illegal immigration has the potential to collapse this country both economically and culturally. No other issue is nearly as urgent right now.
However, I can think of two other fairly important issues that are worth a brief mention. One is the tense situation in Ukraine. Our leaders need to make sure we don’t let the unrest over there draw us into a major confrontation with Russia.
Another important issue is the national employment situation. Yes, the official unemployment rate has been ticking down, but when only 63 percent of the country is participating in the labor force, you know the real unemployment rate is much higher than the 6.1 percent that was reported. Too many people are still either underemployed or forced to work part-time for economic reasons.
Jordan Hibbs – AZ, Barrett Honor College at Arizona State University 2014 Graduate, Pursuing Masters Degree, Bio
I believe the three most urgent issues are reproductive rights, immigration reform, and student loan debt.
In 2014 access to reproductive health care is still an issue Americans are facing. Just last month, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision, that closely held corporations can refuse to include contraceptive coverage in their employees’ health care benefits on the grounds that such a mandate violates a federal law protecting religious freedoms.
While it seems that women stand to lose the most, everyone is affected by the decisions made by five male justices in the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court Case that chose corporations over people. Hopefully this decision reminds American voters that the future of this issue is in their hands.
In the continued absence of federal comprehensive immigration reform, Americans have been reminded recently of the very dire need for it. In the past few weeks, there has been an outcry from American citizens as immigration officials have dropped off hundreds of women and children at facilities in Arizona and California.
The recent influx of undocumented, unaccompanied minors into the United States has directed attention back to the national debate over immigration and hopefully this means that Congress will act soon.
Student Loan Debt
The student debt crisis is an issue for millions of students, parents, and the entire American economy. Earlier this summer, the U.S. Senate voted on Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act (S.2432). Although the bill failed to reach cloture, it was an important step toward alleviating the more than $1.2 trillion of debt carried by 40 million Americans.
As a graduate student without any student debt, I am fortunate to have financed my education by earning college credits in high school, attending community college, earning academic scholarships, and receiving financial aid. But I know that many other students are not as lucky and I am concerned about the 70 percent of recent graduates who have student loan debt. With $1 trillion in total outstanding student loan debt in the United States today, this is an economic crisis that we cannot afford to ignore.
Lana Lake – MT, Montana State University 2014 Graduate, Bio
It has been my distinct pleasure both to serve on a number of political campaigns over the years and to have had the opportunity to speak with tens of thousands of Americans about the issues that affect them daily. I believe the biggest issues we face today can be better expressed in broad categories, as opposed to trying to pinpoint exact issues.
1 Breakdown of Family Structure and Moral Values
While some might point to the economy or flagging employment rate as the most urgent issues facing our nation, I feel we must deal with the true root of the matter in order to correctly diagnose the problem.
The most basic unit of any society is the family. Studies show that when family structure and values are intact and flourishing, societies in turn prosper. Historically, nations most often fall from inside factors, rather than from outside influence.
Ancient Greece and Rome are perfect examples of nations who fell into immoral lifestyles, which caused their families, culture, and nation to erode and crumble from the inside out. Today, drugs, alcoholism, widespread divorce, and pervasive immorality result in large numbers of single-parent households. These factors perpetuate instability in our society.
2 Growth of Government
Government is an essential and necessary part of our society, but its immense growth over the past two decades has led to unacceptable deficit levels. Our current spending rates are unsustainable and must be reined in. Many point to our national debt as one of the biggest national security risks of the future.
3 Lack of Personal Responsibility
The federal government has repeatedly tried to play the part of an overindulgent parent by trying to cater to every perceived need and whim of its citizens. This has been especially typified by the efforts of Obamacare, unemployment benefits, and welfare programs that poorly allocate hard earned taxpayer money to anyone and everyone who thinks they need it.
The intentions behind these efforts aren’t malicious or even ill placed, and helping those less fortunate than ourselves is an American principle. But the method in which these programs are being pursued is faulty.
While a small minority sincerely qualify and need government assistance, most government handouts only encourage reliance and dependence and discourage many from pursuing opportunities to actively better them.
The aforementioned concerns have been perpetuated by the expansion of technology and innovation over the past few years and I believe exemplify the most serious issues we face as Americans in 2014 and beyond.
Shigufa Saleheen – CA, University of California Student, Bio
I agree with the others writing about the various large and daunting problems America is facing. The debt our country is amounting, as well as the growing debt of our college students, is extremely alarming—and these problems only deal with our finances. I see our problems to be more at home, dealing with the stability, equality, and safety we all deserve.
The situation at the border seems to be getting worse as a wave of more than 50,000 refugee children are flooding into the country. Children, who are fleeing trafficking and violence in their home countries, are coming to the land of prosperity and opportunity and are being turned away.
The necessity to reform our immigration laws and citizenship process is crucial, as the current process involves endless amounts of paperwork upon paperwork. Obama has requested aid, but with a Republican majority in the House, it is obvious this will be one of the big problems our government must tackle this year.
The other problem facing America is one that affects nearly half of our population, and it is the issue of gender equality. It is true women have made great bounds in this country compared to a century ago. They now hold far more positions of control and are in worthwhile jobs.
However, last year, Wendy Davis had to filibuster a law which would close most abortion clinics in Texas, ending the right of women to make their own decisions about their bodies. This year, the U.S. Supreme Court made a decision allowing Hobby Lobby, to prevent their female employees from getting health care coverage for certain contraceptives. Women have risen in the ranks, yes. But are they anywhere near equal? No.
Though improving, women still do not have enough say in the government about issues of great concern to them, and this is a problem we must address and begin to change.
George Washington said in his Farewell Address that political parties “are likely in the course of time [will cause men to] subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
Though Washington may have been a bit dramatic, the message rings clear and true. This year, the House is set to make history and become the “least productive” Congress ever. Republicans have been constantly looking for any way to undermine the President with the newest thing being a cry from Sarah Palin to impeach the President, while Democrats refuse to listen and continue to create bills lacking bipartisan support.
While this is happening in Washington D.C., Republican and Democratic citizens are more divided than ever. And discussion of issues in the media has become less about the issues and more about the strong differing views between political parties.
Many large news networks report their news with a bias towards one political party, making it hard for the average citizen to grasp both sides of any issue and become aware of the facts. The ignorance being created is one of the biggest problems facing the United States today, for it creates the disunity of the American people.
Though I don’t believe we should get rid of these groups, I do think we, as a nation, should take a good look at them, so we can put solutions before preset ideologies and people before parties.
Photo Credit – David Castillo Dominici