Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Victims of Student Loans

Meet Carla. She’s a former college student, the newest member of America’s debt pool, and a victim in the disaster growing around us. She didn’t have a winning ticket in the gene pool lottery…she’s not wealthy or smart in the way that gets rewarded. Carla had to interrupt her education and has postponed returning to school because she can’t afford it. Since she dropped out in her sophomore year her loan tally is close to $25,000. She has delayed payments and tried to get work piecing together enough for living expenses and a pittance for that looming overhead cloud of debt.
She—and many in her generation—live under this sentence of penury making life decisions (or not) based on the indentured nature of their lives. Think of it: an entire generation, hesitant, moving through the years not spending, not creating, not building the population, and certainly not optimistic.

Many in the Occupy Movement are in this bind; they feel like a “bait and switch” has been pulled. Embarrassed, they are the novel victims of the financial crisis of 2008 squeezed as they are between inflated costs of education and stagnant employment prospects; they are angry and frustrated.  As was written in Occupy’s Tidal magazine “Our strategy (after graduation) must be to target industries that we can profit from. We ignore our actual interests. We manufacture false identities based on status in order to forget ourselves…We have become someone else. We will not risk quitting a low paying job to work for ourselves; the danger of default is too great.” 1

Some would say this is a whining generation brought up on Pokemon and Nickelodian cable channels specifically targeted to acculturate them “to choose” and then to expect what was selected. They were sold a package of self-actualization and feeling good. But in truth they merely took us at our word that each person could pursue happiness according to his/her inclination with a reasonable hunch that early employment would allow some experimentation. (Think back on your years at this age…are you still doing the first thing you tried?) Some might be artists, scientists, doctors, landscapers, carpenters, etc.

But today, a graduate better also be packing some version of a business degree to be productive. That makes sense in an unforgiving world but it’s new and far from being well-rounded, balanced and healthy. If liberal arts majors are a dying breed no one gave the memo to these kids. This is an age group we have abandoned and it is adrift. They were promised the American Dream and now they have a $1 trillion nightmare haunting them. “An entire generation is facing a future under water.”2 Their total debt is more than all the U.S. car loan and credit card debt combined. Small wonder they are finding commonality with others who accuse the financial system of predation.   

The dirty little secret is that most colleges—save for the Ivies—compete with each other keeping prices at a four year institution in the stratosphere. It is not uncommon that along with every diploma a graduate receives a $200,000 bill. With the unemployment rate at a staggering 25 % among former students the outlook for repayment is bleak. These loan programs were based on an enthusiasm in the 1960’s thinking years of earning always lay ahead. But with an economy turned sour young people--the most expendable class--are the hardest hit; that formula won’t work.

In this Easter Week as we heed the call to respond to victims of injustice let us add these members of our future to “The Prayers of the People” and a firm intention for advocacy.


  1. Thank you, Bp. Packard.

    I'm 44, and will die in absolute poverty, without even enough to live on through my social security because the government is acting as the enforcer for private loan corporations. If you want a lesson in incredible doublespeak and outright sophistry, ask your congressmen - or our president - why this is continuing and why it won't be stopped, by forgiveness of loans.

    There is no forgiveness, except by working in a hopelessly-broken public sector, and, then, it can be denied, or by full and irreversible disability. I would be better off as a paraplegic, thanks to student loans.

    You can't discharge it, even if you are in the desperate straits demanded by changes in bankruptcy law.

    Unemployment, federal retirement, tax refunds - all are attached without any process of appeal except to the companies themselves - guess what they will say? Your wages are attached, the only stop-gap being minimum wage times 32 hours - regardless of how many hours you actually work.

    The ombudsman for student loans is - frankly - a shill for the loan companies, offering you no options other than that he can try to negotiate sky-high payments.

    It's not just "young people," either.

  2. And thank you, Mark. Yours is the sequel to this sad tale. Many logically went to school for graduate credits--after all there were no jobs--why not be "productive" with this time. But that adds to the tab...note what Mark says about forgiveness, discharge, and the ombudsman process. Truly scandalous.