Fiscally Trapped: The Sad Truth About Student Loan Debt

So I ran across this little comic that I feel is worth sharing:


Student Loan Debt Comic


The implications of the comic are fairly obvious: college graduates these days are buried under a mountain of student loan debt, forcing some of them to move back home in an effort to save money.  The older generations of course scoff at the younger, calling them “lazy” and “irresponsible”.  And of course, there’s the oft-repeated “back in my day” type phrase, where they claim they started with nothing but the clothes on their back or had to walk uphill both ways to go to school.

Uphill both ways?  Hey guess what old man?  That’s not PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE!  STOP TELLING LIES!

Okay calm down…I’m getting ahead of myself here.  So perhaps here is the best place to start.

I entered college pretty much immediately out of high school.  Five years later, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Journalism.  And what happened almost immediately after I graduated?  I started applying for jobs.  And where was I applying for jobs?  Places like Kohl’s, Target, and Best Buy…places I could have been working at during high school.  Here I am with a four-year college degree and over twenty thousand dollars of student loan debt and I can’t help but feel like I got gypped.  Granted, I’m living in Duluth where the job market isn’t the greatest and my major isn’t the most widely applicable one, but it’s still a common theme I’ve seen among people in my generation.

We’re told at the start of our school careers that  college is a necessary path to success, that you need to go to college if you want to go anywhere in life.  And this mantra is repeated endlessly throughout our grade school years.  College this, college that…employers are always looking for people with a four-year college degree.  They want people with college experience.  This was repeated to me during my graduation ceremony even.

And yet, most of the time when someone gets a nice, full-time job somewhere?  I learn it’s because they knew someone within the company.  So where does the college degree come in?  Why in the hell did I bother going five figures into debt?  That’s a question I honestly still can’t answer.

I won’t lie…I enjoyed the college experience.  It helped inform who I am today in a lot of ways.  But I can’t really use that to justify the amount of debt that I piled up.  And I’m one of the lucky ones.  There are people in my area who are over sixty thousand in debt…SIXTY THOUSAND!  If they paid their debt back at the same rate I am, it would take them around thirty years just to get out of debt.  That’s insane.

Maybe things would be better if I just broke the laws of physics and WALKED UPHILL BOTH WAYS TO SCHOOL!

..Sorry…getting off track again…

So older people often complain that the younger generations lack the sense of responsibility that the older generations had, and are generally just lazy.  But there’s a problem with that logic.  It oversimplifies the issue.  Sure there are some people in our generation who are just lazy and have little drive to make something of themselves.  But then, where did this sense of apathy truly come from?

I remember when I was younger, gas prices used to be below a dollar a gallon.  I remember everyone crowing about how great the economy was doing.  I remember that President Clinton promised to erase our national debt and set us on a path that would do so.

And now?

Thanks to the economy tumbling and the housing crisis, the cost of living has gone up but the minimum wage has until recently remained stagnant.  Federal funds for education are constantly being cut.  Gas prices under three dollars a gallon is now an amazing occurrence.  And finding a good full-time job is almost as difficult as a needle in a haystack.  Politicians will often tout how they helped “create jobs”, but what they won’t tell you is that those jobs are part-time, and are inadequate replacements for the full-time jobs that were lost.

And then, despite that things have gotten so far ahead of us, if anyone suggests a raise in wages for part-time workers everyone scoffs at them.  McDonald’s workers who protested for an increase in their pay were chided by a great many people.  They threw words like “lazy” and “stupid” at them, suggesting that they’re just leeches on society.  And yet, I know a lot of people who were forced to work at fast food places to try to earn money to pay for school and rent.  And you know what?  At the previous minimum wage of $7.25 or so, it simply wasn’t possible.  The cost of living and the cost of school were simply too high to be supported by a single part-time job.  I’ve known some people who worked two part-time jobs and went to school full-time.  That’s absolutely crazy.

Still, people constantly suggest that if these lazy kids just “work hard enough”, they’ll succeed in life.  Yeah I’m willing to bet most of the people who say that have barely had to work in their lives and were supported by their parents through a lot of it.  I know my parents supported me, and I’m incredibly thankful for it.

And that’s where I start to get really angry.  College is necessary?  Are you kidding me?  Then why is it that every time I hear about someone who went from being somewhere in the middle-class range to being incredibly wealthy I also hear that they dropped out of high school or college to pursue something else?  And then, every time a suggestion is made to help reduce the financial stress of college students people scoff and call them “entitled” or “lazy, spoiled kids”.  “They don’t know the value of hard work,” they’ll say.

And if someone suggests putting eighty billion dollars toward making college education free for students, everyone freaks out like it’s the end of the world.  Never mind the fact that if you actually take the time to do the math, all it adds up to is maybe an extra thirty-three dollars or so per taxpayer per year.  Apparently eighty billion is fine when it goes to funding some inane, stupid war halfway across the world, but when it goes toward actually giving young people a chance, screw that.  Why would we give people the tools to succeed in their lives?  That’s just stupid.

I honestly cannot fathom why people refuse to face the reality of the situation we’re in these days.  The economy has hit a recession, as it often does, and is still struggling to recover.  And yet, we all too often refuse to take steps to make things better, to get things back on track.  Before I end this post today, I want to ask a simple question.  Those who clamored for the minimum wage increases are often called “lazy” by their opponents, as I’ve already pointed out.  But are the ones who want the wage increases the lazy ones?  Or are the lazy ones really the people who refuse to acknowledge the problem and prefer to let things sort themselves out?


Well that’s all I got for this week.  I realize I  got a little passionate on this one, but it’s a topic that directly affects me as well in a lot of ways, so I thank you for your patience in reading this one.  As always, tune in next Wednesday for another post, and have a wonderful week everyone!

Misplaced Priorities: The Failures of Our Education System

When I was in my tenth grade history class, I noticed something odd.  There was a span of about two weeks or so where we talked about World War Two.  We talked about D-Day, Hitler, Mussolini, and so on.  We went through the various battles, the two theaters of war (Europe and Pacific), and all the famous leaders of that time.  But then when it came time to talk about what came after, we spent literally a day talking about Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War.  One class period, and that was it.  It was then that I started to realize something was amiss with our education system.

And it wasn’t until I was older that I realized the problem was more complicated.

Many people of my age like to criticize our education system for perpetuating a narrow-minded, patriotic worldview.  They condemn it for focusing too much on the “good” parts of our history, and glossing over the bad.  While this is true in a lot of respects (as with my personal experience above), the problem doesn’t just lie there.  Our education system, I feel, isn’t doing a great job preparing students for the real world.

When I look back at what classes were required for us to take in high school, I notice some things.  I do feel that high school does a decent job at providing its students with a general knowledge base to work with, but there are some areas that could use some work.  For example, I remember taking a high finance class in my freshman year.  Basically we talked about things like budgeting, writing checks, managing a checking account, and so on.  For someone my age, it was really useful information and advice considering most of us will end up with a checking account because it is almost essential to function in our society.  But you know what?  I believe that the class was an elective, as in it wasn’t required course material. But really, how many kids are going to take a class called “High Finance”?

What it comes down to is that schools are very good at giving us theoretical knowledge (math formulas, reading comprehension, scientific processes), but they let us down when it comes to things of a more practical nature.  Math classes are fine and all, but after a certain point the knowledge becomes useless to all but a very particular group of people.  Same with science classes.  It might be interesting learning about the different scientific theories and laws, but chances are that unless you’re a science major in college most of this information is going to be fairly useless to you.

And going back to the subject of history, the way we focus our lens of history in high school is really questionable.  While its true that we can’t cover all of history with the same attention to detail, we could spend a little less time talking about things like World War Two (WWII).  We all know that D-Day happened, and we all know that the Holocaust was a horrific event that should never be forgotten.  These are important subjects that deserve covering, but there are other aspects of history that have so much richness to them that we just gloss over.

For starters, there’s World War One (WWI), otherwise known as “the war to end all wars”.  I was aware of the existence of WWI, but I never really understand just how earth-shattering it was until my British Literature class in college.  The advent of WWI drastically changed the way humans saw the world.  It heralded a massive shift in arts and literature.  No longer was war a courageous and noble thing.  War became ugly and decrepit.  War became a nightmare.  War became the bane of humanity.  In short, war sucks.

But I had to wait until college to learn about this.  I barely remembered how we talked about WWI in class, because my memories are overshadowed by the over-saturation of WWII lectures.  All I really remember was that WWI was mentioned, and that it started with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria.  It may have been mentioned how brutal it was, but the details were skimmed over in favor of moving on to WWII.  And it is there that the critics of my generation are right.  The schools do have a tendency to focus more on parts of history that make the United States look favorable.

And even in eras of history where we did horrible things, history classes tend to gloss over them.  We talk a lot about the Revolutionary War, but we barely talk about how we treated people who were called “loyalists”, people who favored the cause of the British in the colonies.  People like that had their businesses destroyed, their livelihoods ruined.  Some were tarred and feathered, then paraded around and made an example out of.  The worst part?  Tarring and feathering was literally what it sounds like, with hot tar being poured on a person’s body then being rolled around in a pool of feathers which would stick to them.  The aftermath was that if a victim tried to remove the tar, a portion of their skin came off with it.  Not only that, but their skin would blister and burn, and they were often left susceptible to infection.  I never heard that part in school, and I’m betting most of you reading this didn’t either.

That’s the problem.  Our education system has such a narrow focus on subject matter that once we get out of high school, we realize that a lot of the information we possess isn’t inherently necessary to function in our modern society.  Not only that, but we’re constantly pushed by educators to figure out what we want to do with our lives before we’re even finished with high school.  We’re told that it’s important to find the college you want to go to now, and that waiting is bad.  You know what?  I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life or what my major was going to be until the second year of my five-year stint in college.

Waiting isn’t a bad thing.  With something like this, its best to take your time and think on it, rather than jumping in headfirst.  As the old cliché goes, think before you leap.

This is where our education system needs to change.  High school students need more practical knowledge rather than theoretical.  They need to be exposed to views besides “America is great and amazing”.  There are still plenty of problems in our society even today that could be addressed but aren’t.  Progress doesn’t mean ignoring our past sins.  Progress means accepting our mistakes, acknowledging and owning them.  This is where our education system can change, by providing us not only with practical knowledge but with the knowledge of our faults.  We are not perfect.  No one is.  Accepting that is an integral part of life.  Illusions weigh us down, but the truth sets us free.  History may be written by the victors, but that doesn’t mean it has to be skewed.

And that’s all for this week.  Tune in next Wednesday for a new post as always.  Until then, have a great week everyone.