You, let’s talk about debt, baby…

Michael Williams

Let’s talk about you and me.

American Student Assistance estimates that 20 million Americans attend college annually, with 12 million of those individuals seeking tuition help through loans. That’s 60 percent of students who are annually indebted to pursue a college degree, which we are told is all but requisite to succeed in the economy. Therefore, it’s highly likely that this column applies to you.

Michael Williams
Michael Williams: Opinion Editor

Student debt has hit an all-time high of $1 trillion. That’s a daunting number. Forbes notes that this is three times the amount of just a decade ago. It won’t cap. And student debt is the only type that cannot be exonerated through bankruptcy. (That said, if we were General Motors and needed to continue manufacturing increasingly obsolete vehicles like Escalades, bankruptcy wouldn’t be an issue).

We are one of the first generations for whom education is considered a right despite one’s gender, race, sexuality or creed. The openness of education that our generation has encountered is unprecedented.

That openness, or rather, that a lesbian African-American can pursue the same degree that a white heterosexual male can, is worthy of investment. But both individuals will likely encounter the same red tape to pursue higher education. Every demographic in our society accrues debt for college.

So, factoring in rising food and energy prices, landing a job that allows us to make monthly loan payments is the only option we have. And we’ve all heard about that bloated job market waiting for us.

Enter the concept of ‘debt bondage.’ The term refers to the inability of an individual to buy their way out of the debt that they have accrued.

Unless every one of this column’s readers land a job that forks over awesome amounts of money, it is likely that the majority of our careers will be spent paying off the evidence that we went to college. It sounds ironic. That does not mean that the degree is pointless. Personally, I would rather be in debt than work the service industry my entire life (though, I may have the pleasure of both).

What it means is that our generation must find ways to be financially savvy, despite what we have going against us. Simply put, saving money is key. If that means living by necessity (as most college students do), then so be it. Though, this may not be enough.

Most working class students live paycheck to paycheck, finding money for necessities in one place, with cents to spare. Those without jobs find money through loans, thus being indebted to live. So, when I advise people to save money, it’s advising those with the privilege of saving to do so. Most are not privileged. Other avenues to debt-freedom may be examined and developed.

Our generation must find means of pressuring policy makers to do what they do, except for us this time. Holding a degree out like a carrot is not just, nor is factoring in debt with no guarantee of an adequate job. Ours is a risk economy.

Voting for anti-debt candidates during elections should also be considered. The Green, Libertarian, Justice and Constitution Parties are all individually anti-debt, advocating policies that would help alleviate the future pains of debt bondage.

Invoking the Old Testament’s concept of “jubilee,” or debt freedom, Rolling Jubilee, an Occupy Wall Street offshoot, buys up peoples’ debts for pennies-on-the-dollar and relieves them, thus freeing individuals from formerly crushing circumstances. Supporting an organization like this may pay for you in the future.

Navigating the economy strapped with debt is a burden that the majority of us can relate to. The worst way to cope is to ignore it entirely.