Following this blog, I figured the best way to rack up comments was to write about health care. So I thought I might explore one element of the recently enacted health-reform legislation that grabbed my attention as a prospective pastor. Though I worked for a short time on Capitol Hill, much of the far-reaching legislation eludes my understanding. We will be sorting out the implications of these reforms for years, if not decades. But one provision stands out as noteworthy, because it exposes a major social change with questionable merit. Until young adults turn 26, insurers are now required to let their parents retain them as dependents, no matter whether they have married or found gainful employment.
The move will benefit many of the 13.2 million Americans between the ages of 19 and 29 who currently do not have health insurance. According to the Commonwealth Fund, almost 30 percent of this age group foregoes health insurance for a variety of reasons. Students may continue from college to graduate school through at least their mid-20s. An unhealthy job market directs others into internships, residencies, or part-time positions that do not provide benefits. Youth (with its high risk-tolerance) convinces some to take their chances that no catastrophic illness will befall them.
This new insurance mandate matches the new social reality for 20-somethings who cannot or do not become independent adults when they turn 18, or even 21. According to the Brookings Institution, about 70 percent of 30-year-old adults in 1960 had married, started a family, and achieved financial independence. That figure had dropped below 40 percent by 2000. More young men and women are attending college, but the median number of years needed to complete a degree has risen from four to five since 1970. Men between the ages of 25 and 34 without college degrees earned less money in 2002 than did men from the same age group in 1975, when adjusted for inflation. But their 2002 peers who finished college and completed at least some graduate school earned more than both groups. So if you want to achieve economic independence in your 20s today, college and perhaps even graduate school has become something of a necessity.
Many young adults, regardless of gender or ethnicity, associate marriage with economic independence, so they have delayed this common transition to adulthood. In 1970, 69 percent of white men married by the time they were 25, according to Brookings. That figure dropped to just 33 percent by 2000. The declines between 1970 and 2000 were similarly steep for black men (from 56 percent to 18 percent), white women (81 percent to 47 percent), and black women (64 percent to 24 percent). The level of student debt is a contributing factor, and a difficult job market is another.
- Monthly issues on web and iPad
- Web exclusives and archives on Leadership Journal.net