The Federal Reserve Bank of New York says the U.S. outstanding student loan debt is between $902 Billion and $1 Trillion. These numbers are astronomical and most friends my age (30s) are still feeling the burden. But this new report from the National Center for Education Statistics made me think about how we place value on the conditions this trend creates. The report shows that sky-high student loan debt for college graduates like me (Class of 2007-08) is causing people to delay marriage, delay buying a home, and making them more likely to take undesirable jobs.
It gave me pause because I don't necessarily see "delaying marriage" or "delaying buying a home" as a negative, but rather the trap of conventional wisdom. Admittedly, my values system was forged as a counter to the norms that surrounded me growing up. In Michigan, it was perfectly normal for kids to get married during or after college, oftentimes before our pre-frontal cortexes had formed (age 25). The Wedding Industrial Complex was in full force, making one's wedding THE event of one's life, particularly for women. The bachelorette parties that were out of control for anyone's finances were problematic. I didn't think any of us knew who we were, let alone being in a position to make a rational decision about who to spend our lives with.
And so it was often that I smiled through gritted teeth after hearing about a friend who was getting married or having a kid before we even got our first jobs in the workforce. Delaying marriage seemed to be the wisest choice, not the canary in the coal mine of our imploding society.
As we got into our careers and people began adding to their debt by buying homes, I wondered whether anyone had actually learned from the 2008 housing crisis. We were all trying desperately to enter the workforce at the peak of a financial dumpster fire, and yet we were still buying the lie that equity would - in the long run - outlast the greed of the financial markets. Just this March, Dodd-Frank - the legislation that keeps an eye on big banks and shifty mortgage scams - was deregulated and scaled back. I am not convinced that advancing from marriage > house > baby > retirement > death is the best way forward.
What I found legitimately alarming was the study's finding that almost 50 percent of graduate borrowers had taken an undesirable job or one outside of their field due to education cost. That is scary because it means my generation is poised to live lives of quiet desperation, rather than using our brainpower to reach our potential and make change in the world.
I get it, though. We live in a capitalist society where values are placed on families and people consuming. But in many ways, this is a value system from a former generation, built on the trust of a different time. From where I'm standing, being married with a house, 2.5 babies, and a respectable 401k shouldn't be everyone's benchmark.
On behalf of the college graduates from the Great Recession, what assurance do we have that the conventional institutions of America (marriage and banking) have our best interests in mind?