Imagine a frog in a pot of water. Someone raises the temperature and the frog acclimates to it. But the heat only keeps rising. That’s what inflation feels like to Kody Kohnen, a 22-year old senior at Texas A&M studying agricultural leadership, who explained the scene from a YouTube video. 


“What really baffles me is the affordability of basic things like groceries and houses. You think it would have gone down a little bit since the pandemic and it hasn’t at all,” said Kohnen, who believes prices rose during the pandemic, and haven’t improved much since. 


Kohnen is one young voter aged 18 to 29 who will not be voting in the election. His concerns, like many, are around affordability and the job market this election. 


“The big issue is turnout for young voters,” said Kjetil Storesletten, professor of economics at University of Minnesota, “you need something that’s going to make them excited to go out and vote.” Despite higher than average voting in the past two elections, young voters have historically had a low turnout. Now economic affordability may be demoralizing some from casting a ballot, particularly if they have never done so before. 


Of young voters, 64% said that inflation is the most pressing issue this election, according to a Harvard Youth Poll, citing concerns around affordability such as housing and jobs. Seven out of 10 young people viewed the US economy as “very bad” or “fairly bad,” despite favorable views about their personal finances, according to a 2023 Harvard poll. The wars in Gaza and Ukraine are another added point of controversy. 


“I’m less enthusiastic about it this time around,” said Hugo Sandoval, 23, who graduated with degrees in business administration and government from the University of Texas at Austin in May. “I think part of it is I don’t really believe in them too much.” He would like to see younger candidates and notes housing costs are a main concern.


“Every year I lived in Austin, it got more and more expensive,” said Sandoval, whose rent is around 80% of his monthly budget. Hugo is not alone, nearly half of Americans aged 18-29 lived with their parents as of 2023. In the four years after the pandemic, home value rose twice as fast at 42% since 2020, compared to 25% in the four years prior, heightening the financial strain for prospective buyers. 



Inflation went up after the pandemic and reached near double digit figures in July 2022, before sizzling down in a historic success by the Federal Reserve. But inflation is still too high to cut federal interest rates. This makes buying homes more expensive, and as wage growth lags behind inflation, basic goods are also less affordable. 



“A lot of people settle for renting really expensive apartments, but you never really get that ownership,” said Sandoval. 


Pandemic stimulus checks which helped fuel consumption, also spiked inflation, and were largely used to pay debt among young people. This “drew back the curtain,” said Matthew Nelsen, assistant professor of political science at University of Miami, on what could be done for young people in terms of economic policies. When these were rolled back after the pandemic, it disappointed the people who benefited from them most: young people and lower-income households.


Biden is hinging on the youth vote, which leans stronger for the Democratic party, for the 2024 primary election. His economic policies are focused on young adults with student debt cancellation and the inflation reduction act. While Trump’s policies are aimed at the higher-income bracket with import tariffs, which can raise prices for consumer goods, and tax breaks. 


Yet many young people remember Trump for his lower prices, according to a Reuters analysis, which may cut into Biden’s lead particularly among young men. But some young graduates view the political race as a whole with lacklusterness, citing economic concern. 


“I feel like it’s my duty to vote, so I’ll be doing it either way, despite the lack of enthusiasm,” said Sandoval, who will be voting for Biden. For him, the economy is the main concern this election followed by international affairs, with two wars being financed by the US. “Economically things have gotten better,” said Sandoval, who is mildly optimistic about the economy, “but there’s still a way to go before we get back to some kind of normalcy.” 


A lot of his friends do not want to vote, and on college campus there is talk about a tough job market and high inflation. A shift in mentality may come from federal interest rate cuts, which can be a salient indicator that the economy is better and inflation is under control, according to Storesletten.


It’s also about habit formation. “It’s like any new thing you got to get used to,” said Michael Lewis-Beck, a political science professor at the University of Iowa about younger generations being less likely to vote. “So you’ve got to decide whether it’s worth it to take time out and go vote.”


Some young people believe that their parents’ lifestyle (owning a home, having a stable job, living comfortably), is unattainable, heightening their skepticism about the economy. Kohnen, who has an internship lined up for this summer, wishes for the “American Dream,” his parents had, and Sandoval similarly notes that it’s not as “easy to sustain yourself anymore, to grow a family, and buy a home.”


But he does not think it is impossible. “I think anything’s possible, especially if you work for it and make the right choices, but I don’t think it will come as easy as it might have in the past.”