Saturday, April 21, 2012

Student debt: a lifetime of payments

There are many social issues that helped fuel the Occupy Movement and surely student debt must be one of them. Tuition in state universities has risen sixfold in the past 30 years says Bloomberg Businessweek.  (4-23-12 Buried in Debt and No Degree to Show For It)  Four years at a state university will cost $32,000 or more while a private college hovers around $83,000.

According to data, the number of students that quit school without a degree is on the rise. Some 30% of students who started college in 2003 dropped out within six years, the Magazine reports. The figure was 23% only 8 years earlier.  The main problem is debt.  Students are always trying to fit their lives in to debt payments.  Four year degrees can take 6 years or longer as young people (not so young when they get out) juggle their lives around debt payments, part time jobs and school. We see them all the time in coffee shops and eateries, 30 year olds and older still going to school in an effort to increase their earning power and for a better, more secure future.  Marriage, home ownership, childbearing, all are put off as a consequence of these efforts to get a degree which will mean higher lifetime earnings in most cases.

But as the pressure mounts and more drop out under the strain, students find themselves deep in debt in a low wage job.  One example BW gives is a young 24-year old  who dropped out but wants to re-enroll. The problem: "nearly all his disposable income goes toward $600 monthly loan payments"

Our society, how we live, what we eat and how the resources and wealth we create is returned and distributed to us is determined by moneylenders.  The US in particular is among the most stressful environment in all the advanced capitalist countries as social services are extremely limited and the ideology of the 1% is strongest: individualism, selfish, get ahead mentality no matter what the consequences. The "pull yourselves up by the bootstraps go it alone" is strongest here although those advocating it were all born in to privilege.

As the pressure of studying, working three jobs, paying moneylenders takes its toll and more young people drop out of school, another negative kicks in.  The attacks on workers and our organizations has led to increased inequality as well as lower wages and benefits in the workplace. Traditionally, a college degree means higher earnings. Dropping out under the weight of the assault by the1% on our lives means that a student is left with this huge debt and an income that barely meets it. The median income for borrowers that dropped out of college from 2003 to 2009 was $25,000, $5000 less than those that graduated in those years BW reports. 

Naturally,the 1% and those workers that buy in to their social propaganda about pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, will condemn these weaklings for cutting and running. But that's just tough talk from those who want to deny for everyone else what they already have and there is no such thing as the "self made" person.  We all have help. The Bush's Gates' Buffets of this world are born in to a society and environment that nurtures and protects their privilege. 

The wealth and resources in society that are the product of our collective Labor is enough to provide a decent life for all.  Capitalism is inherently a system of incredible misery and poverty among massive abundance, this is built in to its internal mechanism. It's historical time has passed. 

This small example of the tensions and stress that human beings live through our entire lives underlines the cause of so many social ills.   Young people with no future and in hock to moneylenders.  Wotkers that are in hock to them for their shelter (one in four now underwater), people who allow illness to fester because they can't afford to get medical care and are using credit cards for food or to pay a doctor's fees.   The institutional racism that is pervasive in society and leads to a prison population that is the highest in the world with more than 50% of the incarcerated people of color. 

Perhaps, the most volatile element will be the both mentally and physically damaged youth that return from fighting the 1%'s predatory wars.  US society is not an egalitarian one. Many of these young people will find their way in to the US prison industrial complex or in the ranks of the homeless like those who returned from Vietnam, those that don't kill themselves and, as some have done, wipe out their entire family.

The anger at all this is intense but finds no organized outlet at this point in time.  The Labor leadership which has tremendous resources and the organizational structure to change the balance of forces and social psychology in US society is an ideological partner of the ruling class and champion of the market, just a nicer, kinder market. They bear responsibility for the crisis in people's lives through their support of the system and the class that govern's it. This will change as the anger that lies beneath the surface of society becomes no longer internalized self blame and bursts in to the open and takes an organized form.

The sooner the better.

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