Drowning in Debt

Drowning in Debt

We are sabotaging young Americans.

Think back to when you were 22.  What was on the horizon for you?  Were you thinking of buying a house?  Maybe getting married and starting a family?

This path, which was standard for many in previous generations, is increasingly out of reach for today’s graduates.        

Imagine you are one of the roughly three million students graduating from high school this year.  You have to go to college, right?  That’s not just something people say; the numbers back it up. Individuals with higher levels of education earn more and are more likely to be employed.  According to the Education Pays 2012 report, the typical bachelor’s degree recipient can expect to earn about 66% more during a 40-year working life than a high school graduate earns over the same period.

So you go to school and if you’re a typical student after four years you will have accumulated $25,250 in debt according to the Project on Student Debt.  If you’re like many of my peers you could be looking at much higher numbers in the range of $30,000-80,000.

What does this mean for the millennial generation?  In my experience it means you are absolutely not buying a house.  In fact, you may be moving back in with your parents.  You probably will have to delay starting a family for many years.  It’s unlikely that you’re saving for your retirement and you may be racking up some significant credit card debt while trying to keep financially afloat.

This is a justice issue.  It is not difficult to imagine the future problems that lie ahead, not just for the individuals being crushed under this burden, but for the country as a whole.

And things may soon be getting worse.  The interest rates on federally subsidized Stafford loans, which are currently set at 3.4 percent, are scheduled to double as the 2007 law that lowered them expires on July 1st.  This will impact 7.4 million students.

Rather than prioritizing the issue, Congress is gearing up for a political showdown over how to pay for the cost of extending these loan subsidies.          

The House passed a measure that would pay for extending the lower student loan rate by cutting a health care fund that promotes preventive care.  A move that, to my untrained ears, sounds an awful lot like robbing Peter to pay Paul.  Meanwhile Senate Democrats put forth a proposal to finance the $6 billion bill by raising Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes on high-earning stock holders of some privately owned corporations.  A proposal that is unlikely to gain enough support to pass, and which opponents are calling a political stunt.

If there is a better way to show young Americans that we do not care about their futures I can’t think of it.  But this legislative dust-up is just a symptom of a much larger problem.  As a nation we are putting our young people on a precarious path.  A less optimistic person might say we’re setting them up for failure.  Not only is that unfair, it is bad for all of us.  And if we’re going to succeed as a nation, it needs to change.

The United Church of Christ has more than 5,277 churches throughout the United States.  Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation.  UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.


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