Youth survey: 96% say they make their own success

“If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that,” said President Obama at a campaign stop in Virginia. “Somebody else made that happen.”

Young people think they’ll be the authors of their own success, according to the Horatio Alger Association’s 2012-2013 State of Our Nation’s Youth survey: 96 percent of high school students and graduates agree that their own actions, rather than luck, shape their ability to succeed. Most expect to work in the private sector and/or be self-employed.

Those surveyed, ages 14 to 23, were not much interested in presidential politics. Only 57 percent of high school students said they cared who wins the election, down from 75 percent in 2008. Graduates and students were much more concerned about the economy and jobs compared to 2008. That’s not surprising: 39 percent of high school students and 28 percent of graduates not in college can’t find work.

Other results:

48 percent of high school students get news online.  Just 15 percent read printed news.

63 percent of high school students are taking college preparatory classes, but 24 percent of recent grads who took college prep needed remedial education classes to meet college requirements.

37 percent of high school students reported receiving mostly A’s, up from 25 percent in 2008.

97 percent of students aspire to further education after high school, up from 93 percent in 2008.

Despite everything, 60 percent of high school students are hopeful about the country’s future compared to 53 percent in 2008.

About Joanne


  1. This entire post mischaracterizes the point Obama was trying to make, which was that a business’s success is propelled by the nation’s infrastructure and by workers. He wasn’t saying that success was based on luck.

    • Oh Caroline, don’t work so hard.

      Everybody knows what Obama meant and what he meant was that a person’s accomplishments don’t entitle them to the fruits thereof.

      The morally superior may, for the best of all possible reasons, decide to relieve you of some, or all, of those fruits and there shouldn’t be a thing you can say about it. You know, from each according to his strength, etc.

      There’s the problem with going all in for the left and discarding anything but the most gossamer of pretexts that you’re a centrist, every once in while you just let the truth out.

      Two or three more gaffs like that and Ann Romney can start picking out new decor for the White House.

      • Cardinal Fang says:

        “Everybody knows what Obama meant and what he meant was that a person’s accomplishments don’t entitle them to the fruits thereof.”

        Everybody? What do you mean everybody?

        People who listen to what Obama actually said will understand what he meant. People who start successful businesses depend on infrastructure they didn’t build: roads, bridges, police protection, courts, employees that can read. We all depend on those things, and so we all have to pay for them.

      • “Everybody knows that,” do they?

        Please tell me, are you a small business owner?

        If so, did your business build each and every road and rail line that services your business (including roads used for shipping and/or sales calls), set up the entire water system that provides your business with water, build the electrical grid and power plants that provide it electricity? Does your business pay for private fire protection and private police protection exclusively, such that you would not call on the actual police force if your business were robbed? Does your business hire exclusively people who never attended public schools? Does your business have its own defensive systems in case a foreign country invades? Is it your business’s policy to never use the US Postal Service or the internet for anything, no matter how great or small?

        If the answer to any of these questions is not a resounding “yes,” then what you call “the fruits of your labor” are not entirely the fruits of YOUR labor; you have benefitted from public investment in the things that make businesses successful.

        • Thanks James, Cardinal Fang.

          I understand the importance of the feverish justifications for asserting a right to take that to which you have no claim but even you guys understand you have no legitimate claim or else you wouldn’t throw everything but the kitchen sink at the dismissal of your foundationless claims.

          The fact is, you just want what others have worked for but you understand that only the force of law will allow you to appropriate other’s wealth and you further understand instinctively that “cuz I wannit!” isn’t a particularly compelling argument. So we get the trotting out of every excuse, uniformly baseless, to try to shore up the rickety structure of rationalizations for that appropriation.

          That’s why President Obama needs so many unappointed helpers to explain what he *really* meant as opposed to the meaning of the words he used – the words he used are just a trifle too explicit in their assertion of an unlimited power to take whatever he wants.

          The big question as far as I’m concerned is whether President Obama made a mistake in revealing his avarice or whether it’s part of strategy to appeal to his base which, like him is motivated by a similar avarice?

          • What are you babbling about, in relation to “unappointed helpers”? Regurgitating a right-wing talking point about “czars”? Who cares what the facts are, right?

          • Yeah, all those big words I used are pretty confusing but you’ll just have to prize out the meaning yourself. Imagine the sense of accomplishment you’ll have when you extract the meaning therein!

            I ought to charge you for the experience.

        • J. Remarque says:

          James, successful business owners have paid for utilities, infrastructure, fire protection, public schools, and so forth, through their personal and business taxes. How grateful are we small business owners supposed to be to the government for simply performing the basic functions we pay it to do, and not always efficiently or well? Where do you think funds come from to pay for the water system, the highways, teachers’ salaries? It’s a two-way street. We could just as easily ask the President to thank us for the tax revenue.

          No one here is an anarchist. No one is discounting the value of public utilities and civic services. The President is arguing against a straw man while telling us we can’t even puff ourselves up a bit over our accomplishments. It’s an insult.

          • What business do you own?

            You are stating that Obama was correct, but that it’s okay to lie about wha the said because you pay taxes?

          • J. Remarque says:

            No, Aaron, I’m saying that Obama is attributing to business owners an anarchism that’s false. No one is lying or taking the President “out of context” here. The speech really does show him mocking, denigrating, and caricaturing entrepreneurs.

    • Caroline, nobody that I know of has accused the President of saying that success is based on luck. Where did you catch that red herring?

  2. Really, Joanne, REALLY?
    You know damn well what you just did.
    Oh, I’m sure there will be a rush from the usual dittoheads to defend you on this,
    but you know that you misrepresented what Obama said.

  3. Mark Roulo says:

    Joanne did link to the text of the speech…

    • Which makes what she did worse. She can’t feign ignorance that she didn’t know she was using the quote out of of context.

      • No, it means she gave her opinion of the matter, showed you the original text and her references, and lets you make up your own mind. (She is hoping that you’ll end up agreeing with her opinion, but then again, isn’t that what a blog is supposed to be about? Might as well be an AP or Reuters article, otherwise…)

  4. Roger Sweeny says:

    He could have saved himself a lot of trouble if he’d said, “If you’ve got a business–you didn’t build that ALL BY YOURSELF.”

    Everyone would have agreed. In fact, that idea (with different emphasis) is the basis of one of the classics of free-market economics, Leonard Reid’s I, Pencil, which Milton Friedman used in his book and tv series Free to Choose.

    From Wikipedia: I, Pencil is written in the first person from the point of view of a pencil. The pencil details the complexity of its own creation, listing its components (cedar, lacquer, graphite, ferrule, factice, pumice, wax, glue) and the numerous people involved, down to the sweeper in the factory and the lighthouse keeper guiding the shipment into port.

  5. Well, to anyone even faintly following the news, that quote has a crapload of context. Half the planet must have seen the context of the speech on TV or YouTube. The idea that “context” makes what he said OK makes pretty big assumptions about a person’s world view. He made it abundantly clear that he thinks every person is dependent on stuff provided by the government for success – never mind that some of us (around half) pay dearly to provide this stuff for everyone and never mind the extreme hindrances to small business (the context of the remark) provided by that same government (we’ll give you a pool to swim in, you’re just going to need to hold one of these bricks in each hand as you go).

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      Well done, Rob. 🙂

      • Okay… So you are admitting that the line is taken out of context and that the whole thing is a big lie – but you think it’s okay to lie because some people pay a lot of taxes? Fascinating.

    • Cardinal Fang says:

      Joanne, I know that you have a conservative viewpoint, so I’m not surprised that you support the Republican candidate, but I had previously thought you were honest. I’m disappointed to see this dishonest post. You’re better than that.

      • Peace Corps says:

        I don’t see Joanne supporting a Republican candidate any where in this (or any other) post. You are seeing what you want to see. I also can’t see anything dishonest about the post. Please provide specifics of what you think is dishonest.

        • Cardinal Fang says:

          Joanne is usually honest. Yet here, she is supporting a willful misunderstanding of the President’s speech put forward by Romney supporters and no one else. I can only assume that her partisanship temporarily led her astray.

          “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. ”

          You didn’t build that road. You didn’t build that bridge. You didn’t teach yourself.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            Actually, this wasn’t a speech. It was unprepared remarks. So:

            Pro-Obama interpretation: Even someone as eloquent as Obama makes mistakes when they don’t read from a prepared text. He meant, “You didn’t build that business ALL BY YOURSELF.”

            Anti-Obama interpretation: Presidential speeches are written by professionals and edited numerous times before they are given. They don’t say what the president really thinks in his heart, but this off-the-cuff statement does.

            I personally don’t think that Obama meant it literally any more than Mitt Romney meant, “I like to fire people.”

            Can we all agree, though, that Obama thinks that many people who own businesses give themselves too much credit, and that they should be more willing to pay taxes?

          • That’s not what he said, either.

            I built my own business; Obama didn’t accuse me of taking too much credit for that, nor did he say that my creating a business means I should pay more taxes.

          • Mark Roulo says:

            Mitt Romney didn’t say, “I like to fire people.”

            He said, “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.”

            I’m pretty sure that he did mean what he said.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            Mark, you’re absolutely right. I remembered the quote wrong and didn’t check it.

            At the time, I remember a lot of people quoting the first part of what he said, “I like to be able to fire people” and using it to paint him as mean and privileged and uncaring.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    In one of her books, Ayn Rand anticipated the argument. Her character’s response was, more or less, ” But the roads are here, and the canals and the telephones. Why didn’t everybody build a successful business?”

  7. look, he used the pronoun “that” directly after the noun “business,” not roads or bridges. it is clear grammatically that “that” refers to businesses. if he meant to refer to bridges and roads, he should have placed the pronoun differently or not used one at all.

    • Cardinal Fang says:

      I would agree with your comment if the quote had been an editorial. But this was from a speech. Pretending to misunderstand speech by pouncing on a pronoun whose referent is ambiguous grammatically, but perfectly clear in context, is dishonest.

  8. J. Remarque says:

    Here’s the larger context. Watch the speech on YouTube and you’ll hear the mocking tone the President used. In the first paragraph in particular, he’s mocking people who take pride in their own accomplishments. Apparently we’re supposed to praise the government for building roads and bridges, which successful business people paid for through their taxes anyway….

    There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. (Applause.)

    If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

    The President is wrong. Some people are smarter and do work harder than others, and it pays off.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      It’s all about risk. Some people take risks to build a business; some folks choose a safer, surer path with an employer.

      Telling someone who opted to forego the sure thing and build a business that they owe their success to those who pay taxes for infrastructure is beside the point. We all pay taxes for road and bridge building. Well, those of us who actually pay income taxes anyways.

      Saying you didn’t build that is an attempt to marginalize the sacrifice and risk of the business owner. People who spend their entire lives sucking on the tit of public “service” have little understanding of what it means to risk your income and your future on a business venture that may fail without tenure and pension and health benefits.

    • If the best defense of the initial lie is to slather on more lies, why don’t you just give up?

      The President did not deny that some people are smarter than others. The President did not deny that some people work harder than others.

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    And some don’t. Problem is, “don’t” doesn’t pay off.

  10. This is my final visit to this page. I can get my fill of divisive politics, negativity and misrepresentation from the usual sources. I’ll go elsewhere for meaningful discussion of education topics.

    • Since I never knew you were here in the first place, why do you expect me to miss you? 🙂

    • Joanne drops some ideological drivel onto her blog from time to time. But on the whole it’s worth following.

    • Cardinal Fang says:

      I’ve been reading this blog for a while, and have learned a lot from it.* Joanne gives us a variety of interesting links, and in general she describes the links accurately. I hope this willful, partisan misrepresentation is just an aberration, and she will return to honest description of links.

      * Mostly, what I’ve learned is that simplistic solutions, whether those favored by the right or those favored by the left, don’t work.

  11. Of course Obama was telling successful people they didn’t earn their success. It’s entirely clear, and the context makes it worse, not better. Obama has said many similar things over the years. It makes sense. The man never held a job that he didn’t get because powerful liberals liked him. And none of those jobs were ever in businesses that relied on him to make money for them.

    • You nailed it. That’s why Obama assumes that we ALL only got our jobs because some liberal government official GAVE it to us…

    • If you don’t understand English, or mindlessly parrot right-wing talking points, yes, “of course”.

      If you care about the facts, well, not so much.

      • The context is that Obama’s a Communist and he revealed just a bit too much of what he believes.

        That’s why you have to rush in and try to explain that there was all sorts of non-existent context that completely changes the meaning of what he said. But the meaning was clear which was that the fruits of anyone’s labor can be appropriated at any time and for any reason.

        Obama, like you, believes that you ought to be able to take whatever you want to do the wonderful things you think ought to be done. That the concept of private property is just a tiresome impediment to the establishment of a brighter tomorrow.

        But you know your vision is shared by few and most of them have to be bought off with promises of a share in the spoils resulting from the seizing the wealth of the undeserving. That’s why the stupid “Occupy” movement collapsed and why it was never destined to accomplish anything.

        • You clearly do not know what the word “Communist” means. Advocating that SOME taxes return to levels under Clinton and passing the Republican RomneyCare does not make one a Communist.

          • I know precisely what the word means and it means that the seizure of private property isn’t just allowed, it’s a pretty good idea and adherents ought to get about doing so as soon as possible.

            That’s what all this frantic “explaining” and what all these complaints about the context really amount too. Obama got a little too close to admitting what you’d love to see occur and you realize reflexively that admitting your avarice for the wealth that belongs to others is a dangerous, even foolish, move.

            So we’re treated to the sight of all these shoals of red herrings to divert from the actual, and pretty hard to misinterpret, meaning of Obama’s words – what you worked for doesn’t belong to you and Obama would love to take it away whenever he gets the power to do so. *That’s* what makes Obama a Communist and that’s why the leftosphere’s practically apoplectic.

            You can believe in Communism, you can talk about how wonderful it would have been if it were done right, you can talk about it in those terms among similarly inclined people but you can’t come out and say what a good idea it would be for America. That, to within a hair’s breadth, is what Obama did and that’s why he so needs your help to confuse the issue.

          • Allen, you are so untethered from reality, it really is impossible to respond. You use no objective facts or evidence to make a debatable case, you just blather on with unsubstantiated, baseless whining “Ohhh nooooesssss!!!! Obama’s a CommunistMarxistFascistKenyanMuslimDictatorMaoistLeninistStalinistIndonesianAthiest.”

  12. Cardinal Fang says:

    Stepping aside from the political implications of this post, I question whether “96 percent of [American] high school students and graduates agree that their own actions, rather than luck, shape their ability to succeed” is true in the students’ own lives.

    As has been amply documented on this blog, whereas Asian students believe that success in math class comes from studying (their own actions), American students believe success in math class comes from being good at math (luck). When it comes down to cases, American students actually believe luck makes students succeed in math rather than hard work.