This year’s college graduates are exiting academia with all the traditional pomp and circumstance. Roughly two thirds of them have taken out student loans to complete their education. For them, the pomp is being dragged back to earth by the circumstance of an average debt that will probably surpass the $27,000 or so owed by the classmates of 2011.
Hope for change drew high numbers of young voters to Barack Obama in 2008. But Obama’s failure to live up to his promises has dampened the enthusiasm of many once-eager supporters, including graduates burdened with massive debt in a stubbornly hostile economy.
Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats offer any solutions for these graduates that do more than scratch the surface of the problem. Even grading on a curve, their plans could at best earn a D. The Freedom Socialist 2012 presidential campaign of Stephen Durham and running mate Christina López, on the other hand, proposes to take strong, immediate, and practical action. Durham and López stand for canceling all student loan debt and giving everyone a chance for higher education by making it free.
Students forced out of higher education or into permanent indebtedness
The Durham-López campaign positions are designed to address a bitter series of Catch-22s that young people face.
Exorbitant tuitions and costs are causing legions of people to forgo higher education or quit in midstream – especially youth of color, whose families are more often low-income. But, in this economy, everyone is looking for an edge, and college grads with a bachelor’s degree earned 38 percent more in 2010 than people with only a high school diploma. Many young people, therefore, stick it out – only to find themselves in the 50 percent of recent grads who are unemployed or underemployed.
Meanwhile, they have likely racked up thousands of dollars of debt. Total student loan debt hit $1 trillion this year, prompting demonstrations in cities across the country initiated by the 1TDay group. This is a massive spike from the roughly $200 billion owed as recently as 2000. Moreover, academic loans cannot normally be canceled by going through bankruptcy. Compounding the problem, late payments result in bad credit scores. And, with more employers requiring credit reports, a low score can lessen the chances of getting a job.
Academic loans aren’t the only debt that most students accumulate. With jobs for students scarce and generally low-paid, many use credit cards to pay for basic needs like food and rent. Credit companies flood campuses and give out their cards like candy. Over time, late fees and interest charges multiply a student’s mounting debt. In 2010, the credit card vultures profited from an outrageous $22.5 billion in penalty fees alone.
Much like the coal miner in bondage to the company store, the odds are stacked against students entering the workforce from the start. A person forced to take any miserable job just to pay off debt is more prone to be hesitant about striking or organizing a union, preventing them from bettering their conditions.
Plans for failure versus a plan for success
President Obama keeps the banks afloat and making record profits with bailouts that reach over half the amount of total student debt every year. But he and his Democratic colleagues in Congress show no such generosity to struggling low- and middle-income students.
Obama’s main initiative only tweaks a reform passed by Congress and signed by George W. Bush in 2007. This law capped monthly student loan charges at 15 percent of disposable income and forgave any remaining debt after 25 years. Obama’s change lowers the cap to 10 percent and erases the debt after 20 years. However, only those who have been able to reliably make their monthly payments qualify. And the whole scheme applies only to loans made by the federal government, not by private lenders.
Private lending is booming. Even so, government still makes the vast majority of student loans. And, if Congress does not act before July 1, the interest on these loans will double, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. Both Republicans and Democrats claim they want to keep the current rate, but prospects are dubious for an agreement that does not pile on more austerity elsewhere.
Anti-debt groups are organizing protests that include everything from a hoped-for debt strike by a million students to ball-and-chain political theater on graduation day. Some, like the Occupy Student Debt Campaign, call for canceling all existing student debt and making public higher education free. The Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) write-in campaign of Stephen Durham for president and Christina López for vice president is solidly behind these demands. Durham and López stand for total student debt forgiveness and free public education at every level for all U.S. residents, regardless of immigration status. A free education means that income does not determine a person’s access to knowledge and the opportunities knowledge can bring.
This brighter future for young people should be paid for by ending U.S. wars and occupations and taxing corporate wealth. Although the current drive of big business is to create a narrowly educated but digitally savvy workforce, corporate profits in fact depend on exploiting a broad spectrum of learning. Over the past decades, business tax rates plunged while workers’ real income stood still or fell and college tuition skyrocketed, rising by almost 400 percent more than the general inflation rate since 1986. It’s way past time to make some serious adjustments.
Workers and students must wrest control of our lives from the banks and remove profiteering from education and other fundamental areas of life like healthcare
and housing. The Durham-López campaign recognizes education as a basic human right and believes the power to craft a free, quality education for all should be in the hands of teachers and students. No longer should generations of young people be held hostage to loan sharks!
To find out more about the 2012 Freedom Socialist Presidential Campaign, please write to VoteSocialism@gmail.com.