Submitted by the US Delegation for the Youth Study Commission at the Third International Assembly of the International League of Peoples’ Struggles June 2008.
The Impact of the US Recession on
Education and Working Conditions of Youth in the US
US imperialism is in a perilous state as the economy has reached a point of recession evidenced by the high rates of unemployment, rising gas prices, and a failing housing market. The US government’s manic quest to remain the most dominant force around the world has translated to the massive suffering of youth across the nation in terms of education and their working conditions. The US has launched unfinished wars of aggression on Afghanistan and Iraq, which have continued to deplete the US budget of its funds; the government elects to cut spending for education and jobs amongst other vastly important items, as they increase spending on the military and terrorizes people within and beyond its own borders.
On Education Budget Cuts
For its 2009 budget, the Department of Homeland Security is requesting a massive $50.5 billion-a 7% increase over its 2008 budget. The Department of Defense has requested a budget of $515.4 billion for 2009-a $35.9 billion or 7.5% increase in over the 2008 budget. In contrast, the Bush administration has announced another slash to the national education budget. For 2009, the proposed budget of the Department of Education is only $64.9 billion-$3.7 billion less than the 2008 budget of $68.6 billion.
In California, Governor Schwarzenegger proposed $4.8 Billion in cuts to the education budget for K-14 in the 2008-2009 school year including $313 million from the California State University budget, and $400 Million in general education budget for the current year. In Georgia, there was a proposal to cut the budget by $38.8 million for career and technical education, $3.4 million for Improving Teacher Quality Grants, and $8.9 million for Georgia’s 21st Century Learning Centers for the fiscal year 2009. In Alabama, Gov. Riley’s budget cuts $400 million from the state education budget (more than half of that from four-year colleges). More budget cuts are being proposed in other states. And so, to make up for these drastic cuts, the administration steps up its privatization of education and hikes in tuition fees.
Privatization of Education and Tuition Fee Hikes as a Result of Budget Cuts
In the wake of the devastating Hurricane Katrina disaster, conservative think-tanks have exploited the situation to advance their agenda of privatizing education and using post-Katrina New Orleans as its guinea pig. The critically acclaimed radio program Democracy Now reported on August 30, 2007 that the Louisiana legislature cleared the way for the state to assume control of 107 out of 128 schools in the Orleans district. Immediately, the state began converting many of its newly acquired schools to charter schools – publicly funded schools run by for-profit or nonprofit groups that operate by a “charter,” or contract. One result is that the number of unionized teachers dropped from about 4700 to 500. Many of the schools that opened as charter schools have subjective and selective admission policies, meaning they determine which students will attend and which students will not, causing many black students to be subjected to racist and unfair practices.
Higher education has become further out of reach for the underprivileged with the steep tuition fee increases coupled with the steep rise in food and gas prices. In California, city colleges raised tuition fees by 150% in 2004 and the University of California schools, a public institution, raised its fees by 7% in 2007.
With the US educational system being used as a money making scheme — a tool that reinforces the imperialist agenda — courses are determined by the current market demand and not by the needs of the people. Students are not taught to be critical scholars. Instead, they are being prepared to be part of the reserve labor force.
The Subversion of Education to Militarization
The worsening situation of education has resulted in high rates of dropouts from high school (70% among Native Americans on reservations).
With the reduction in educational and employment opportunities comes a rise in the recruitment of youth of color and migrant youth into the military. One out of five children from elementary to high school are undocumented. The government offers citizenship to any undocumented person 18 or older if they enlist in the military. While this is the promise made, in an estimated 20 percent of cases, it is not kept.
The prioritization of military spending over education is evident in the presence of military recruiters on school campuses. Youth have fewer and fewer opportunities to attain higher education. This makes youth of color from low-income backgrounds especially vulnerable to the aggressive military recruitment occurring on their school campuses and in public places where youth gather such as the movie theatres or shopping malls. These manipulative military recruiters purposely target low-income youth of color offering false promises of scholarships for education and better jobs in the future. Schools are pressured to have military recruiters on campus, otherwise they face de-funding by the government.
Options for these youth are extremely limited in the workforce, if they are even able to get a job to begin with. The US government takes every opportunity to scapegoat immigrants for the economic, political, and social woes of the country, in addition to trampling on their rights, as well as the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders, queers, questioning and intersex (LGBTQQI). The government does not hesitate at the chance of enlisting the undocumented youth and LGBTQQI youth with the American flag and risking their lives for their imperialist wars. Recently they co-opted the proposed legislation entitled the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), which had the original intent of providing undocumented immigrants with an opportunity to attend college. Unknown to many, the legislation now bears the condition that enlisting in the military is a requirement for eligibility if one does not attend an institution of higher education.
Deportation and Criminalization of the Youth in US
In addition to the DREAM Act, undocumented migrant youth are subjected to increasing rates of deportation, as well as a general climate of fear due to the escalation in raids targeting workplaces and neighborhoods where their family members may be swept up and deported without warning.
Those who fall to the wayside, or who are under attack by the reactionary government, often resort to joining gangs or are fed into the profit driven racist prison industrial complex, which is growing despite all the government cuts in other social programs. Although “minority” youth are one-third of the adolescent population in the United States, youth of color compose two-thirds of the over 100,000 youth confined in local detention and state correctional systems and are disproportionately over-represented at all stages in the juvenile justice system.
Black youth represent a concentrated number of the people in the prison industrial complex–not because they commit more crimes, but because they are systematically targeted by the state, which propagates US imperialism. A specific example is the case of the Jena 6, in which six black students challenged white supremacy by sitting under a tree that was for whites only. Consequently the six students were charged with second-degree murder and were criminalized for standing against a system of genocide and white supremacy.
Resistance of the Youth against US Imperialism and Fascism
In the case of the Jena 6, close to 70,000 youth and supporters mobilized from all across the country and went to Jena. As a result of the protest and outpour of international and national community support for the Jena 6, the charges of murder were reduced.
Last June 1, 2008, the Filipino youth in New York came together to protest against the harassment of two members of a community-based fraternity (Kappa Pi) who were just playing music at the Philippine Independence Parade using makeshift drums. The Filipino youth, who were also carrying slogans lambasting the Philippine government on its failure to address properly the rice crisis in the Philippines and criticizing the commercialization of the Independence Day celebration at the time, came together and prevented the NYPD from arresting the two brothers. Barely a week after, more Filipino youth joined the protest action demanding an apology and condemning the alleged connivance of the NYPD-Philippine Consulate and Philippine Independence Day Committee. The Filipino youth activists in New York related this incident to the state terror also being imposed on Filipino activists in the Philippines, with both governments (US and Philippines) employing violence against those who challenge imperialist policies.
The Justice for Joshua Campaign involved a youth in San Jose, California who was arrested with a relative that defended Joshua’s mother against domestic violence and was charged, not only with trespassing, but also under the gang enhancement law within Proposition 21, which charges youth as adults with a sentence of 25 years to life imprisonment. Rebecca Rivera, Joshua’s mother, launched a local campaign, gathered community support and garnered media attention around her son’s case. On March 20th of this year, the judge lowered the sentence due to mass community outrage and media attention that was drawn to this case.
In the context of counter-acting the military recruitment of youth, massive protests were staged by the people, which resulted in some school districts to prohibit military recruiters from entering their campuses. As with the case of Chelsea Uniting Against War (CUAW), students — along with their parents, teachers, and supporters — walked out of their classes, initiated educational discussion groups, organized know-your-rights forums and formulated plans of actions addressing the presence of the military in schools.
Massive discontent in the current political situation and the desire for change can also be seen in the widespread participation of youth in the election process and other mobilizations in the US. However, we must tirelessly educate the youth and expose that the electoral process is not the primary means of change. We need to develop revolutionary consciousness and develop cadres who recognize that only through armed struggle can we protect the oppressed peoples and counter the militaristic and fascist approach of the imperialist oppressor and its local reactionary counterparts and puppets in all countries.
With all these, we must also keep in mind that only through collective action can we achieve genuine social change and bring about a pro-people and pro-youth society that will truly engage the youth and will advance their true wellbeing.