Throughout every job I’ve had since college, I’ve heard my fair share of millennial bashing. Millennials typically fall into the birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s, and according to my coworkers, we’re the generation that believes that the world owes us a favor. Sure – some of the claims are true. When we participated in sports, we often got credit for simply showing up. Sure, when we went to college, we expected to land a job immediately after we graduated – but that’s how we were told it’d all work.
Unfortunately, many of us didn’t land our dream jobs, or any jobs at all. We’re forced to live with our parents, even though they necessarily aren’t too fond of the situation either. It’s not because we’re lazy – it’s because we just can’t afford to grow up. A lot of us are still paying off college loans for jobs that didn’t quite pay off, and they can eat away at our future savings.
To put numbers on this devastating situation, roughly 37 million in the U.S. are saddled (collectively) with a little over $1 trillion in student debt. (You read that right: A trillion bucks). According to The Institute for College Access and Success Project on Student Debt (known as TICAS), the average borrower will graduate at around $26,600 in the red. It’s also been reported that almost 40 percent of households led by someone younger than 35 have student loan debt. The one of the reasons as to why this is such an epidemic is based on the fact that tuition prices have been at an all time high, based on state funding cuts and the desire for college campuses to improve itself with new buildings and upgrades – which in all honesty, might lure in a few desirable students, but don’t necessarily improve the type of education that students get from their qualified professors. The standard student loan repayment schedule is 10 years, but it can often be much longer. Keep in mind that loans also carry interest, so payments only grow – while raises at work often remain nonexistent.
These debts aren’t just coming from four-year colleges – community colleges also rack up a lot of debt. Students who were aiming towards an associate’s degree from a community college in 2008 found 38% graduating with debt. In the for-profit sector of two-year degrees, over 90% have debt. Despite having heightened educations, it’s just extremely difficult for this generation to step ahead and put money down towards responsible purchases they want to make, including a house, a wedding, or even a car. These loans are hindering our abilities to truly grow up, and they significantly widen the wealth gap in the United States.
“Both parties are now saying, perhaps inequality has gotten to the point where it’s not fair when people don’t have a chance to rise, and we need to do something about it,” said Harvard Business School’s Michael Norton. Back in 2011, Norton put together a survey and found it alarming to realize that most Americans think wealth is more evenly distributed than it actually is.
So – what can we do?
For one, TICAS is trying to ensure that students are getting better access to information regarding student loan debt, including information on consolidating debt, and also making them fully aware of the school’s graduation rate.
There’s also the method of debt forgiveness, which is the stopping of debt growth owed by individuals or corporations. With this method, taxes might increase – and while it’ll help solve the problem, it’ll probably anger many individuals who had nothing to do with the loan, nor did they find direct benefits from the education others received. (If you think you’ll fall into this group, give it time! You’re helping our future doctors and educators here!)
I’m not saying this plan has no downfalls. Julia Paxton, a developmental economist, summed it up perfectly:
“One of the problems of debt forgiveness is that it sets a precedent that similar loans in the future will also be forgiven. Although the loans are allocated toward education, money is fungible and will have the net impact of increasing the spending ability of students in other areas of their lives.”
Regardless, as tough as it may be to fight, we need to realize that our education is worth well more than the debt that we might accumulate. If you’re in high school and the thought of college debt scares you, just try to think optimistically and know what you’re getting into. If your dream is to be a doctor, try to think about how the debt might affect you after your years of difficult studying – and try to think up a game plan, even if it seems far away. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s nothing you can’t handle.
And for those of you who are quick to judge the millennial who has already graduated? Just remember that negatively stereotyping an entire bracket of young adults doesn’t make it easier for us to take on jobs and roles that we might be overqualified for. We’re just trying our hardest, and at the core of it, we’re thankful for what we have.
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