Student Debts, Stunted Lives

Student Debts, Stunted Lives

As Congress jacks up the rates students and their parents are paying for college loans, the consequences are already being felt by young people whose ability to have a child or own a house is limited by debt.


The Democratic Party did not find her. The Hollywood liberals did not find her. The reactionaries are not looking for her. But the Chicago Tribune did find Margo Albert and did understand how significant her plight is.

The paper wrote, “Margo Alpert is on the 30-year plan. Every month between $500 and $600 is automatically deducted from her salary to pay off college loans. By the time the 29-year-old Chicago public-interest lawyer is in her mid-50s and thinking seriously about retirement, she will finally be free of college debt.”

The newspaper also found Carrie Gevirtz, a 28-year-old social worker with a degree from the University of Chicago, a $55,000 school debt and an annual salary of $33,000. She is quoted as saying, “I can’t afford my lifestyle. I’m not in a position to buy a place. I can’t buy a condo and don’t know when I would, unless my income changed dramatically…. I was not prepared for this…. It really freaked me out.” To make ends meet after deducting her $250 monthly payment on her student loan, Gevirtz has a second job at a health club and does baby-sitting.

Starting July 1 the interest on student loans taken out by students will rise to just less than 7 percent. Loans taken out by parents for students will shoot up to 8.5 percent. The theory the Republican Congress works on is that increases in fees and interest payments from the white-collar masses are not the same as tax increases, some of which might have to be paid by our protected class of billionaire kleptocrats from whom, we are told, all blessings, especially our jobs, flow.

Whenever the subject of the high and ever mounting cost of tuitions and the student loans needed to pay for them comes up, the focus falls on individual financial hardship. We’re invited to pity or empathize with Margo Alpert, and she certainly deserves it, but our attention is not drawn to the consequences of these arrangements. Nor is the discussion ever couched in terms of the social control implicit in high tuition and high student-loan interest rates.

The most important consequence of the financial hole the Margo Alperts are in, thanks to their education, is that many of them are going to be childless. Many others will have one child at most. How can a young couple, each with $40,000 or $50,000 of debt, think of having three or four kids? They will have to wait until they are in their late 30s to have a family and by then, when they think of college costs, they will feel compelled to limit themselves to one child.

There’s a policy for you! While our legislators are up nights working on new tax gimmicks to further “capital flows,” as they like to call their money-grabbing, they are also burning the midnight oil to throw up financial barriers that will keep the middle class from having children. Forget the cant about family values. Make that childless couple values.

There is social control in loading young people up with financial obligations. Burdened with debt and desperate to have and keep a job, there is no way they can take a wild year off and certainly no time for protesting, organizing or causing the kind of social and political trouble young people cause from time to time. Would there have been a civil rights movement? Would there have been an antiwar movement if those collegians had been saddled with the debts our present-day young people carry?

How many young people turn away from low-paying but vital professions because they can’t earn enough to pay back their loans? How many potential social workers, pro bono lawyers, journalists, environmentalists, teachers, artists, secondary medical professionals and community workers are we losing?

The two things that make most of us cringe are the thought of 1984 and The Stepford Wives. In fiction both of those nightmares achieved reality through drugs or chemicals and voodooish alchemy. In actuality America can become a Stepford nation merely by adjusting the price of education and a few interest rates.

Will somebody get angry and start yelling?

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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