Appeared in yesterday's Daily Hampshire Gazette. It's eh, but it's done and, as my mother once observed, "Don't get it right, get it written."
Adam Fisher: A home mortgage minus the home
Friday, August 19, 2016
Everyone has bits and pieces of quick-hit wisdom with which to address the daily grind and one of my favorites is "don't do the crime if you can't do the time," a folksy way of saying "be responsible." It's short, it's sweet and it hits the nail on the head except, of course, when it doesn't.
One of the arenas in which things become a bit blurry is the matter of student debt. On the one hand, a college education is force-fed to our children as a way to improve their lot in life. On the other ....
Not long ago, I did an entirely unscientific survey of the 20-somethings on my block here in Northampton. It was simple enough to ask six or seven newly graduated or almost graduated young people whether they were looking at a future that included such indebtedness. Every one of them owed or were about to be saddled with the indigestion that comes from swallowing what had been force-fed. Sums ranged from $27,000 to $150,000.
In short, each owed a down payment on a house that none of them could live in.
College is good for you. It's the responsible thing to do. Everyone – parents, teachers, counselors, and even businesses – said so. And at 20-something, which of us has not been swayed by the amorphous "everyone?"
The trouble is, while "everyone" says something is true, there's only one person who is stuck with the tab. "Everyone" isn't forced to field phone calls from people with accents who ask for money. "Everyone" doesn't rack his or her brain trying to figure out how to reconfigure a loan that feels increasingly like a crime. This is, if I had to guess, not just depressing. It is also terrifying.
Student debt is far more common and closer to home than you might think.
Less superficial than my own neighborhood tracking poll, is a Consumer Reports survey of 1,500 Americans with student debt. It found that 45 percent felt that college had not been worth the burden; 44 percent wanted to know how much student debt a prospective partner carried before beginning a meaningful relationship; 28 percent delayed purchasing a house; and 12 percent delayed marriage based on student debt.
In the United States today, 42 million people owe $1.3 trillion in student debt. This debt pool is second only to mortgage debt.
How and why did this happen?
Early last month, the Center for Investigative Reporting attempted to answer the first question with an article entitled, "Who Got Rich Off the Student Debt Crisis?" In its forward, the article observed:
"A generation ago, Congress privatized a student loan program intended to give more Americans access to higher education. In its place, lawmakers created another profit center for Wall Street and a system of college finance that has fed the nation’s cycle of inequality. Step by step, Congress has enacted one law after another to make student debt the worst kind of debt for Americans – and the best kind for banks and debt collectors." (Find the article at revealnews.org.)
Privatized loan programs. Privatized prisons. Incrementally privatized charter schools. In a world where "capitalism" is the norm, if there is a buck to be made, someone will find a way to make it.
But is this any way to address national needs – needs for a more highly educated populace; needs for punishing those who did do the crime; needs to empower those whose circumstances do not allow for a smoothed and soothed upbringing?
Isn't there something to be said, in a presidential year, for the good of the country – now and in the future – and not just the good of some college-educated wallet?
Perhaps the Department of Homeland Security could address the issue of financial terrorism.
Adam Fisher lives in Northampton and is a regular contributor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.