In today’s America, debt is a regular part of life. It drives our economy and enables our culture. Due to the expense of higher education, rising cost of living, consumerism, and the ongoing dollar crisis, it is becoming evermore difficult to live in the United States without accruing considerable personal debt. Especially so for college students.
For our young adults, the American dream of prosperity has regressed to a new tradition of being unemployed or overworked, and buried under a growing mound of debt.
Higher Education Trains Us for Financial Enslavement
America has always prided itself in the quality of its institutions of higher education. Today, however, the college experience is vastly different than it was just a short 50 years ago. Students come to college unprepared for study and for life; and more often than not, are unable to cover the cost of a college education without taking financial aid in the form of government, bank, and personal loans. All the while depending on credit cards for the necessities of college life.
Attending college leaves 2/3 of college graduates in serious debt before they even enter the workforce. In 2011, this debt was to the tune of $26,600 on average, up 5% from 2010, with some of the increase said to have been caused by an increase in the accessibility of financial aid to students. Out of the approximately 37 million outstanding school loan borrowers in mid 2012 (that’s 12% of the US population), over 1/3 of these are under the age of 30 and, stunningly, about 18% are over the age of 50. (Sources: CNN and American Student Assistance)
The status quo for today’s young adult is to go straight into college after graduating from high school, spend huge sums of borrowed money, then graduate having to immediately find a job that pays enough to live and pay down this debt. As it is, a mere 56% of students enrolled in a 4-year program receive a degree within six years of enrollment. (Source: College@Home) The opportunity for self-exploration, travel, and personal growth is difficult to come by in this model, leaving many people unfulfilled before life even really gets going.
Institutions that offer school loans continue to offer more financial aid to a wider demographic of students, under the guise of non-discrimination and opportunity. In other words, there is push by lenders into to new markets for selling the dream of professional success. As a result, 2/3 of graduates begin a life of debt service before they’ve even received their diploma.
This is a recipe for creating a social class of indentured wage slaves, not for developing a nation of capable, creative, and happy people. America’s youth has been sold into an insidious new form of economic slavery.
Life After College
Getting a job out of college has never been more difficult. Once working, many graduates, even the ones with good-paying jobs, aren’t necessarily successful, because they are personally unhappy – even depressed – and, as a result, some researchers say that Americans will change careers up to 7 times in their lifetime! (Source: Wall Street Journal) Others indicate that more than half of job openings in the US are filled by people starting a new occupation or entering a new industry. (Source: Huffington Post)
A tough job market often means that you go where the jobs are – the trendy and fun metropolitan areas where the money is. Meaning expensive. And as an independent adult, you are faced with the reality of the rising cost of living in most major US cities. In February 2011, the US Department of Labor reported that the cost of living for Americans hit an all-time high, with no sign of relief in sight. Heaven forbid you decide to marry, have a child and take on the expense of daycare.
High living costs, reinforced by a very slow increase in income gains, have resulted in America, once the land of opportunity, becoming the land of stagnant wages and unsustainable debt. By the end of 2011, many two-income American households were at a risk of not being able to afford their basic essentials, such as food, medical care and utilities. (Source: Huffington Post)
Consumer Culture In Search of Fulfillment
This picture of personal financial wreckage, overspending, and living beyond one’s means, is the prevailing undercurrent of the cultural dynamic in the United States. We have totally submitted to our desire for luxury goods, new cars (fixing the old cars is so darn expensive; just lease a new one), the newest electronics (you already have an iPhone…but the new iPhone 5 will make you just SO much cooler around your friends), bigger houses (it is against building codes to build homes below a certain size, with new homes averaging around 2100 square feet), and on, and on.
Where do we get the money for all of these possessions? Credit cards and bank loans! In the name of stimulating the economy, and under the parody of financial freedom, our culture now creates consumers, not citizens. “For everything else, there’s Mastercard!”
Citizens are even called consumers in nearly all media reporting … and thus we are further brainwashed to believe that our main purpose of existence on this earth is to consume. As a result, we’ve stimulated the American economy to the tune of:
- $850.9 billion in credit card debt or $6,920 per household (January 2013)
- A record $2.795 trillion in consumer debt (including school loans but excluding mortgages) or $22,720 per household (January 2013)
- $14,517 average credit card debt per indebted household (in March 2012). We can try to mask this by saying that the average dropped about $20,000 since March 2010, but this only happened because in 2010, credit card companies wrote off 10.7% of debt – up 300% from 2006.
- $16.7 trillion in US national debt and growing (March 2013)
What is our response to this debt crisis? Lower interest rates and take out more loans – which rose 10% in January 2013!
Haven’t we learned anything from watching the corrupt banking system lie and steal, deflating the value of our currencies and jeopardizing any chance of financial stability? Debt and institutionalized financial thievery is such an integral part of the American tradition nowadays that we even parody ourselves in movies like Inside Job.
Debt is a form of slavery. Encouraging our youth to jump-start their lives by piling on debt, and saddling them with an astronomical national debt is unfair to them and dangerous to all of our futures.
Alex Pietrowski is an artist and writer concerned with preserving good health and the basic freedom to enjoy a healthy lifestyle. He is a staff writer for WakingTimes.com and an avid student of Yoga and life.