The closer I get to graduation, the more I can feel the knife at my throat, the proverbial sword hanging by a thread above me. This threat isn’t unique to me, about everyone I know my age feels it too. Whether we devote our nights to searching for jobs to keep the knife at bay, or to trying to forget the knife inching a little closer in front of us, our lives are swamped in the thought of that great terror: student debt.
According to Forbes, there are just fewer than 45 million of us who are a total of $1.56 trillion in the hole. Some back-of-the-napkin math reveals that if you stack that in one-dollar bills, you could go to the moon and back about four and a half times.
Roughly half of students across the country have taken out loans to finance their higher education. The average borrower owes about $35,000, or just shy of three times the 2019 Federal Poverty line for an individual under the age of 65 ($13,300 times three is $39,900). The average monthly payment has hit $393 and, like all these figures, is still on the rise. $393 every month for the next few decades. For some, that $393 has stuck around so long that it’s taken out of their Social Security checks before they even get it in the mail.
The numbers show us the scale of the issue, but not the human depth. Try a thought experiment: factor in a monthly payment of $393 into your current budget. What would you have to do to meet it? Would you have to pick up an extra part-time job? Cut back on time spent with friends to pick up a few extra shifts at work? Student debt has a material cost, sure, but it also has other hidden costs, measured in books left unwritten, art left unmade, experiences left un-had. Student debt shackles us to next month’s payment, leaving us groveling for a few dollars more instead of living our lives like our parents did.
This is a pretty bleak picture. Is there anything that could be done about it?
Absolutely. We can, and should, forgive all student debt. Every last penny of all $1.56 trillion. Doing so would lift the biggest burden off our shoulders.
If you did not have to pay your student debt, what would you do instead? You could afford to only work 40 hours a week and maybe use some of that extra time to work on that novel you’ve been tossing around in your head. You could afford some time off to go travel like you’ve always wanted to but never did because you had another payment coming up next week. You could start that business you’ve always thought about now that you’re not already in the hole by $30,000. The personal benefits of student debt forgiveness would be nothing short of liberating for almost 45 million Americans, probably including you.
The social benefits to student debt forgiveness are just as evident. Imagine up to 45 million possible entrepreneurs suddenly given the opportunity to carry out their dreams. Imagine young lawyers who were saddled with sometimes up to $200,000 worth of debt being able to do the more important, but less profitable work, like fighting our broken immigration system on behalf of migrant families. Imagine a generation no longer worried about how they can make a payment and instead about how they can make a difference.
The Ohio Presidential Primary Election is March 17. There is one candidate running who will, in his first year in office, completely forgive all student debt. There is one candidate who recognizes the knife that is at our throats, the sword hanging above us, the shackles holding us back from living the lives that we dreamed of. His name is Bernie Sanders. But he cannot get to the Oval Office without our help. Vote early if you can at the Hamilton County Board of Elections (it’s down Montgomery Road, past Kroger), or get to your polling place on March 17.
We have the power to make our dreams and the dreams of 45 million other Americans a reality. We just have to take it.