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Howard students challenge candidates on economy

Rising unemployment rate a key issue

By Ramonica Rice
CNN

Student leaders organize activities to increase awareness of political issues before the 2004 election.
Student leaders organize activities to increase awareness of political issues before the 2004 election.

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Editor's note: As part of our coverage of the 2004 election season, CNN.com is sending correspondents to the colleges where they studied to report on issues affecting today's young voters. In this edition, Ramonica Rice returns to her alma mater, Howard University.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Xayna Sanders is anxious about her future. A junior political science major at Howard University, she has many friends who have recently graduated from college and are still unemployed.

"What happens if I get out in the world and I'm qualified and there's nowhere for me to go?" asks Sanders. "I don't want to be that student who moves back in with my parents and waits for something to break."

Sanders is not alone. Many of the students on the historically black campus of Howard University are concerned about the economy, and especially about a national unemployment rate that has climbed higher than 6 percent. Howard students say they feel that finding that dream job and commanding a high salary after graduating will be a major feat.

Concern about future job prospects can be heard at campuses across the country. It's one of the most critical issues for young voters at Howard, whose campus sits less than five miles from the center of American politics. Joblessness hits the African-American community particularly hard, at rates almost double the national average.

Students say when they head to the polls next year for the 2004 presidential election, one of the key issues on their minds will be the economy. Jason Ravin, a junior from Houston, Texas, says candidates need to make improving the economic situation for all Americans a primary goal.

"It encourages people to come out to vote and produces consumer confidence that things are going to get better when a candidate says this [the economy] is my number one priority," Ravin says.

Labor market woes are a common reality for students who say even their well-educated family members are struggling to find work. A number of students who barely considered a post-graduate degree are finding ways to extend their education after college saying it is their only option.

"It's a long-standing joke on campus that everyone is going for more schooling because that's all we can do," says Ravin. "There's not a job out there for us."

Chequan Lewis, a junior majoring in political science and economics, recalls that four years ago during the Clinton administration he never anticipated today's economy would be in this condition.

'None of us saw it coming'

"None us were certainly worried about what type of job we were going to have or if we were going to have a job. It was a matter of going to school, getting out and seeing who's going to make the most money," says Lewis. "It blows a lot of minds honestly, and none of us saw it coming."

Politically charged and raring to cast their votes in the November 2004 presidential election, students are speaking out and addressing the presidential candidates head-on about their strategies for the country.

Four of the Democratic presidential contenders have visited the campus to campaign and solicit support from the students: Rep. Dennis Kucinich attended a bi-weekly political panel to reach out to college students; Carol Moseley Braun, the first African-American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate, announced her candidacy on the campus; former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean launched his "Raise the Roots" tour aimed at younger voters there; and Sen. Joseph Lieberman gave a speech to students commemorating the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington.

Junior Kristen Howard, a director of political affairs for the student government association, says the candidates realize the importance of attracting both black voters and young voters.

"We're young, but we're involved. ... We're not afraid to use our voices and to use our rights as voters and we will not come alone. We will bring our friends and our families. And those who are uneducated, we're working to educate them and you will address the issues that affect us," Howard said.

Many of Howard's students have behind-the-scenes access to the political system with the privilege of regularly participating in internship programs at the White House, on Capitol Hill, and other federal government agencies, because of the school's location in the nation's capital.

"People at Howard are of the top politically motivated and politically aware as African-Americans that I've met," says Remone Bradley, a public relations major. "Here we have strong college Democrats, strong college Republicans and they're always going back and forth."

Candidates visiting the university can expect the same fervor from students. The youth say their concerns about recent changes in financial aid, the educational system, healthcare reform, affirmative action, terrorism, unemployment and economic stability should be taken seriously.

"You cannot go on a college campus and not address the employment issue or economy issue where we're the people directly affected by that ... we're the generation that's going to help your economy grow," says Sanders. "If I graduate while you're in office and if I'm successful and others are successful, that makes the economy come out better, which makes your term better. So it's a win, win situation."


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