I think it’s fair in the current student loan discussion to point out that the timing is rather, um, fortuitous. That is, the job market has soured enough that the people for whom opportunity was always a pretty hard slog (the three lower quintiles in terms of income or mobility, who haven’t had a real wage increase in 40 years) are no longer the only ones feeling the effects of a pretty much stagnant economy since 1970.
The upper two quintiles, numbering a lot of [brace yourself, everyone!] white, middle class and above kids, used to filing into positions that were by and large secure a generation ago (law, accounting, media, education with the prospect of tenure or unionized positions, etc.) are now looking at the world, like, well, everyone else. And since they are in position to publicize, they are (good for them!) — but the crisis has always been there. They just weren’t as inspired by it when it was only abstract.
I’d been beating the drum of wanting a chart of student loan ratios tracked to income and inflation when I was in school 20 years ago. Graduating into a recession, I was pretty clear that I was part of a generation where the hedge education was sold as was perhaps inverting. It most definitely was if you wanted anything besides a J.D/MBA/M.D. I specifically did not pursue a PhD because I saw no good evidence that it was a viable economic investment. As a 24 year old, I was pretty bitter, but felt like I was adult enough that I could be held accountable for my decisions, and my concerns about my family’s financial future were enough that making any other decision seem frivolous, my charged ideological beliefs about revolution and social housing notwithstanding (and you know, don’t feel that bad for me: it turned out okay.)
I felt like my anger about the reality of the job market and what I had mortgaged (as a comparison, in 1993, fully bearing the costs of my student loans was 30% of my gross income at the time) as an undergraduate was perhaps more than an 18 year old should be compelled to calculate. There were a number of extenuating stressors (growing up in an economically depressed area meant there wasn’t really the possibility of just entering the job market) but they don’t roll up into a statistically relevant point.
So there most definitely is a crisis in education debt. But the story there isn’t about people borrowing a lot of money for grad school. That’s a decision an adult makes. The real crisis in the clearly exploitative recruiting techniques of trade school and other for profit schools — which were in full effect 10, 20 and 30 years ago. The difference now is that by expanding the Stafford program means it’s more of a public debt problem.
And there is a crisis in state public education where states are devolving their education expenses to the lowest rungs, often to the benefit of middle class kids, since in absolute terms state schools have a much lower price point for tuition.
“As a 24 year old, I was pretty bitter…”
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