The student loan crisis is crippling generations, and yet, no one truly wants to deal with it. As of April 2019, student loan debt totaled more than $1.6 trillion. That’s half a trillion dollars more than current credit card debt totals. With student loan debts that high, there should be wheels in motion to come up with logical solutions. And yet, all anyone can seem to do is pass the buck on who’s to blame for the crisis in the first place.
Unsurprisingly, older generations — mainly Baby Boomers — think the students are at fault. They believe that if students simply “work harder,” they’ll be able to pay their student loan debts off in a timely manner or they wouldn’t need loans in the first place.
Of course, if you know anything about Baby Boomers, you know this is 100 percent on brand. They’re the same generation who subscribe to the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. As if hard work is the solution to every problem we have. If only.
This line of thinking isn’t only inaccurate, it’s downright dangerous. And it isn’t just Boomers who ascribe to this mentality either. According to a survey from Credit Repair, of the 1,000 participants, one-third of respondents age 45 and older believes students are to blame for high student loan debts
Student loans are a problematic means to an end. College is too expensive for most families, even state colleges. There is no way students can attend if they have to shoulder the financial burden on their own. Who has enough money for a four-year degree just sitting in their bank account? Very very few people.
And that’s not covering costs like housing, transportation, and books. If a family has multiple children, they’re dead in the water before they take off. Which is why loans are a necessary evil if you believe the myth of higher education being the gateway to success.
And previous generations are the ones with a hand in creating that myth. Because they were able to afford college, their expectations for future generations being able to do the same are high. But they forget that they’re the ones who keep raising the costs of higher education, all while keeping wages as low as possible.
So, what exactly are those folks wishing to attend college supposed to do?
When it was time, my parents and I made the decision for me to go to a private college. We did this knowing I would be taking out hefty loans. But we did so believing that it was the right decision and would open the doors I needed for future success. There was no way of knowing what was coming after graduation.
Graduating in 2008, right at the start of the recession, was formative to my entire adult life. Not only did I need to work to support myself, but I had only a few months post-graduation before loan repayment began. Even by cutting costs and living at home while I looked to jumpstart my career, repaying my student loans was a constant cycle of “can I, can’t I,” before ending in default. It was a solid year after graduating that I finally found a stable part-time job.
That’s the thing: My story isn’t unique. A lot of my Millennial peers have similar stories. Many of us were just trying to find jobs, any jobs, taking the long way to what we envisioned for our careers. As a creative, the need for income certainly held a higher priority over pursuing my area of study seriously enough to make a sustainable living from it. Paying off our student loans forced many of my peers to completely rethink what it was they wanted to do with the rest of their lives.
Baby Boomers constantly demonstrate their gross misunderstanding of how Millennials and younger generations live. But their ignorance reaches astronomical heights when it comes to our work ethic and ability. The fact that 14% of the Credit Repair survey participants 65 and older think students should simply “work harder” to pay off their student loan debt is laughable. First of all, Millennials are bearing the brunt of their ire, but they have wildly inaccurate views about how many of us live our lives.
According to Boomers, Millennials are whiny, entitled kids who never got told “no” as children. They believe many of us are being coddled by our parents who foot the bill for us. And yes, there are some (very few) who fit that mold. But most of us are struggling to keep our heads above water, not running to the bank of mom and dad, because the bank of mom and dad doesn’t exist for most of us.
Student loans hang over our heads, lurking behind every major financial decision we make.
I’m a single parent. I’m a work-at-home freelancer because I can’t afford childcare. While I make enough to survive, paying down my student loans is a source of anxiety and stress. If I “work harder” as the Boomers wish, I might actually die from lack of rest. And working harder doesn’t fix the systemic inequality of student loan debt. It would only make clearer the need for major reform to how student loans are handled in this country.
Plenty of Millennials are working multiple jobs to make ends meet. That includes paying off their student loans. There aren’t enough hours in the day for them to work any harder. It’s clear that Baby Boomers, many of whom are parents of Millennials by the way, have no fucking clue what our lives are actually like. Not every college student is an 18-year-old with their parents’ financial support. Adults go back to college for reasons like job advancement. And plenty of college students have no financial support from family whatsoever, so they’re already working hard to survive life while attending school.
“Work harder” is just a new side of the “bootstrap” theory, placing onus on the individual rather than the system. Failing to acknowledge that student loans and their debt is a systemic issue isn’t going to solve this very real problem. As much as we want it to be true, hard work just isn’t enough to achieve the “American Dream” anymore.
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