During the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to get out of Washington, D.C., and talk with folks across the country about how we can create jobs and get our economy growing faster.
This is a tough time for a lot of Americans – especially young people. You have come of age at a time of profound change. The world has gotten more connected, but it has also gotten more competitive. And for decades, too many of our institutions – from Washington to Wall Street – failed to adapt, culminating in the worst financial crisis and recession since the Great Depression.
For the last three years, we have worked to stabilize the economy, and we have made some progress. But we still have a long way to go. And now, as you are getting ready to head out into the world, many of you are watching your friends and classmates struggle to find work. You are wondering what is in store for your future, and I know that can be scary.
The truth is, the economic problems we face today did not happen overnight, and they will not be solved overnight. But the fact that you are investing in your education right now tells me that you believe in the future of America. You want to be a part of it. And you know that there are steps we can take right now to put Americans back to work and give our economy a boost.
The problem is, there are some in Washington, D.C., who just do not share that sense of urgency. That is why it has been so disappointing to see Republicans in Congress block jobs bills from going forward – bills that independent economists say could create millions of jobs through the kinds of proposals supported by Democrats and Republicans in the past.
Now, the best way to attack our economic challenges and put hundreds of thousands of people back to work is through bold action in Congress. That is why I am going to keep demanding that members of Congress vote on common-sense, paid-for jobs proposals. And I hope you will send them a message to do the right thing for your future and the future of our country.
But we cannot wait for Congress to do its job. So where they will not act, I will. That is why I have announced a new policy that will help families whose home values have fallen refinance their mortgages and save thousands of dollars. We made it easier for veterans to get jobs putting their skills to work in hospitals and community health centers.
And at the University of Colorado at Denver, I announced steps we are taking to make college more affordable and to make it even easier for students like you to get out of debt faster.
Michelle and I know what it feels like to leave school with a mountain of debt. We did not come from wealthy families. By the time we both graduated from law school, we had about $120,000 worth of debt between us. And even though we were lucky enough to land good jobs with steady incomes, it still took us almost 10 years to finally pay it all off. It was not easy.
Living with that much debt forces you to make some tough choices. And when a big chunk of every paycheck goes toward student loans, it is not just painful for you – it is painful to our economy and harmful to our recovery.
That is why we are making changes that will give about 1.6 million students the ability to cap their loan payments at 10 percent of their income starting next year. We are also going to take steps to help you consolidate your loans so that instead of making multiple payments to multiple lenders every month, you only have to make one payment a month at a better interest rate. And we want to start giving students a simple fact sheet called “Know Before You Owe,” so you can have all the information you need to make your own decision about paying for college. That is something Michelle and I wish we had.
These changes will make a real difference for millions of Americans. We will help more young people figure out how to afford college. We will put more money in your pocket after you graduate. We will make it easier to buy a house or save for retirement. And we will give our economy a boost at a time when it desperately needs it.
That is not just important for our country right now – it is important for our future. Michelle and I are where we are today because our college education gave us a chance. Our parents and their generation worked and sacrificed to hand down the dream of opportunity to us.
Now it is our turn. That dream of opportunity is what I want for my daughters, and for all of you. And even in these tough times, we are going to make that dream real once again.
In the weeks ahead, I am going to keep doing everything in my power to make a difference for the American people – including young people like you. Because here in America, when we find a problem, we fix it. When we face a challenge, we meet it. We do not wait. And I hope you will join me.
Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States.