Shlaes laments government policies that foster dependence among young adults

Amity Shlaes shares with Forbes readers her concerns about government policies that undermine young adults’ ability to assert their independence.

Our policies lure and sometimes even push the young right back into someone’s care–the government’s or their parents’.

One such policy is college finance. The Department of Education’s financial aid form, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is often the first form young Americans confront, well before the taxman’s 1040. The FAFSA asks young people to make what is, in effect, a Declaration of Dependence. To complete the FAFSA the applicants must demonstrate not what they can do but what they and their parents need. In exchange the FAFSA offers a veritable smorgasbord of breaks.

You’d think families who can’t afford college would love this deal, as the money enables their sons and daughters, by going to college, to indeed break away–from their parents. Some do, but millions of others resent the process. This may be because they sense a racket. Our vast flows of financial aid permit universities to raise tuition generally, which yields a perverse result: The more subsidy families get, the more school costs overall. In any case, such resistance is what drove President Obama into the imperative mode, ordering high schoolers in Miami to “fill out the form.” The resistance testifies to the premium parents place on autonomy. Many working-class high schoolers also resent awards that focus on need.

Children of higher earners find themselves shoved not into government’s arms but rather their parents’. They are forced to make a choice: college or freedom from family. The higher the university tuition or the more prestigious the school, the more likely young people will need financial support. But the FAFSA denies them the cash. Instead, the form insists they hit up their parents. “You can’t be considered independent of your parents just because they refuse to help you with this process,” the Federal Student Aid website informs. “If you do not provide their information … the application will be considered ‘rejected.’ ”

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