This country has long lived by one central creed - this generation's children will do better than their parents. While Republican politicians constantly refer to this ideal on the campaign stump, it is undeniable that they have not only failed to foster its realization but also affirmatively acted against it. The recent GOP-orchestrated government shutdown is just one more data point that confirms this. Please join me below for my own experiences as a twenty-something growing up in a country that seems to have forgotten me and others like me and what we can do about it.
I am 26 years old. After college and graduate school, I have approximately $125,000 in debt. My wife has about $100,000. Our story is all too common - after all, the amount of all student debt in this nation is over $1 trillion. There are many causes for this spiraling debt from greedy bankers and their enablers in congress to scummy for-profit diploma mills. Nevertheless, because of these factors a generation of Americans are being cut away from critical dollars in their bank accounts. For instance, my wife and I need to make $2,900 payments a month just to pay the loans off in the standard 10 years. If we go into an income-based repayment plan and pay for the next 25 years, then we face a massive tax liability for any amount that is left over, which could be quite significant and in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Imagine the good my wife and I could do with additional money in our pockets each month, the investments we could make in our communities, the house we could buy, the car we could buy. Economic output, especially in our housing market, would certainly be better off if millions of young Americans were not shackled with student loan debt. Most importantly, this type of debt comes with the mentally crippling realization that your employment, if you are lucky enough to get it, only allows you to slave away to pay federal student loan servicers.
The student debt problem reflects a lack of commitment to young Americans not only because it harms us as we start our adult lives but also because it reflects a mind-numbingly poor balance of priorities. The creation of student debt produces a net profit for the federal government to the tune of $34 billion a year. While the federal government is reducing federal debt on the backs of young Americans like me, it has bestowed the lowest tax burdens on large corporations and high income individuals in decades. When we discussed bailouts in the 2008-2010 response to the financial crisis, large banks received preferential treatment while young Americans, like those facing foreclosure, were shown the door.
Young Americans, who incurred this debt so that the already-rich and powerful could increase their standards of living, have generally received limited economic benefit from their higher education. Unemployment for young Americans from 18 to 29 years old is higher than it is for all Americans regardless of age and much higher than for older age groups. I have had friends whose first jobs post-college were cancelled before they even started due to the financial crisis. Some have held jobs in which their employer did not pay them for months at a time due to cash-flow issues. Others, including my wife, have been laid off. Indeed, when my wife was laid off by her boss who lives in a large 5-bedroom house in an exurban community, I was forced to stay awake sleepless to consider whether we could afford a mere 2 bedroom apartment in a building constructed in the early 1900s.
Our country is broken for young Americans. We face an almost insurmountable situation that includes high student debt payments, poor employment prospects, and declining wages and benefits. In days past, this type of situation would galvanize the American people into collective action on behalf of those who were being left behind.
But, unfortunately, those days no longer exist. Instead, we have a major party in this nation whose main refrain is that the rich are too poor, the poor are too rich, and the middle just doesn't matter. That major party seeks to increase student loan interest rates, expand corporate welfare, and further reduce the rich's tax burden in hopes that their benevolence will lead to more jobs for young people. And, that major party doesn't even try to reach out to young Americans in a meaningful way, save to convince us that we should not enroll in Obamacare despite its substantial savings.
This country needs change; it needs to reaffirm its commitment to young Americans like me. Indeed, it needs to reaffirm its commitment to everyone who isn't able to hand over million dollar checks or who has not already received significant benefits from their position in our society.
But, as proven by the midnight shutdown, this change cannot occur until we oppose the Republicans everywhere. We cannot stand back and let them own a single inch of the debate. Every point that they make deserves a quick and vociferous counterpoint. Our ideas are better - they are better for young Americans, old Americans, and everyone in between. We just need to express them. By opposing the Republicans, expressing our ideas, and refusing to back down, we not only can, but will win the debate and move this nation forward. Over the next couple of days, as the Republicans in Washington, D.C. continue to act like petulant children, do not refuse to speak up.
The wind is at our back, the Republicans have failed in their most basic duties to the American people, and now is the time for us to point that out.
Update Thank you for the recs. I truly appreciate your response to my story and the plight of young Americans.