NEW YORK (AP) — The Occupy Wall Street protests are hitting a nerve.
A dearth of jobs, overwhelming student loans and soaring health-care costs are just three major issues protesters have targeted. And regardless of politics, economic data suggests they’re not alone in their frustrations.
It may be why the protests have spread to other cities — including Boston, Cincinnati, Seattle and Washington, D.C. — after taking root in downtown New York nearly a month ago.
Take for example the unemployment rate, which has been stuck near 9 percent since the recession officially ended more than two years ago. When counting those who settle for part-time work or have quit looking, that rate rises to about 16.5 percent.
A crippled labor market also shifts bargaining power to employers, giving workers less leverage to seek raises. That could help explain why pay was nearly 2 percent less in August than it was a year earlier when adjusted for inflation.
Student loans are another common rallying point for protesters — as expressed in one sign that read “Want demands? How about student loan bailouts?”
The struggle to keep up with payments is clear; about 320,000 borrowers who entered repayment in 2009 defaulted on their student loans by the end of 2010, according to the Institute for College Access & Success. That’s up about 33 percent from the previous year.
Meanwhile, the cost of annual health insurance premiums for family coverage rose 9 percent this year and surpassed $15,000 for the first time, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust. Some don’t have to worry about the uptick; an estimated 16 percent of the population does not have health insurance.
It’s that economic backdrop that has driven a diversity of protesters to the streets