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What Student Loan Debt Really Means

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I am not surprised that right-wingers are outraged by the idea of forgiving student debt. After all, they routinely pretend that they rose to the top through merit instead of being born into privilege or having figured out some grift, all the while talking about personal responsibility and bootstraps and the like. More outrageous, to me anyway, is some opposition to student loan forgiveness on the class-war pretending side of the left, those who think that they are going to mobilize the poor into some giant movement against the bourgeoisie. Not only is that not going to happen, but they also seem to ignore that the people taking out student loans are often poor people who are trying to make a better life for themselves and are now going to remain poor because of the debt! This contempt for the supposed bourgeoisie who I guess took out student loans so they could have wine parties while at NYU (or whatever) completely elides the fact that huge amounts of student debt are located in people who took it out for trade school or community college. These arguments should be completely rejected.

In any case, Sarah Jones has a good piece interviewing some people about what student debt means to their lives.

I have $102,000 in student-loan debt and it has prevented me from switching jobs and purchasing a home. I’m a social worker at a nonprofit and I very much need to find a position that will allow me to earn clinical hours. But I’m three years into Public Student Loan Forgiveness and where I live, many jobs that would allow me to gain those hours are private/group practices that are definitely not nonprofit and aren’t eligible for the program.

I have a lot of trauma around housing stability and in the last couple years, I have been denied four apartments explicitly and implicitly due to my blindness. I’m apartment hunting again and the fear of that happening again is intense. I make enough money easily to afford a condo (it would be cheaper than paying rent in New Jersey), but I’ve talked to several mortgage brokers to attempt to start the process and have been told by each of them that my student-loan debt will prevent me from buying a house unless my income magically rises to six figures. Overall, my student-loan debt makes me feel like I’m constantly living in precarity and that I won’t get to feel stable and secure until it’s gone.

My husband and I are in our mid-30s, both with graduate degrees and have worked full-time in professional fields for most of the years since we graduated in 2010–2011. After 14 years together, we’re finally saving for a house, a process much delayed and prolonged by $800-a-month student-loan payments. It feels like we’re finally on track to a normal middle-class life that our parents would have begun a decade earlier in their lives. Even though we can probably buy a house, it’s coming later in life and we’ll have to borrow more money to do it. If we take too much time in building a down payment, prices will rise and eliminate any savings the down payment would have earned.

We’re grateful for the relatively recent improvement in our situation, but it’s pretty obvious that we’ve worked harder for less than previous generations. We’ll probably forgo having children since adopting as a same-sex couple is difficult and expensive, and we may face discrimination. But in any case, we aren’t confident that we could provide a comfortable and dependable childhood. So student loans, and the greater hollowing out of the American economy, have delayed purchasing our first home and made it more expensive to do so and made not adopting a forgone conclusion. And we’re the lucky ones. Those who have children or other dependents, those who cannot find work that pays what their degree deserves, or who have debt from a degree they didn’t finish, are in worse spots.

It has created an overwhelming sense of resentment toward the individuals and generations who set up a system that so thoroughly exploited young people who were simply doing what they had been told was the path to prosperity their whole lives. Those same persons now try to withhold any reckoning or relief from this exploitation.

Even on this site, we see commenters skeptical about student loan cancellation. I simply do not understand this. I can think of no better way to stimulate the economy. And it would transform people’s lives.

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