|Dear Millennnials: We're Sorry for the Student Loan Crisis (burp)!|
Bruni's op ed essay was in harmony with an editorial that appeared in the same issue of the Times entitled "Starting Out Behind." The Times points out that young people are graduating from college with massive indebtedness only to face a sickly job market. Unemployment among people in their early 20s is higher than the national average, and underemployment (those people who are unemployed, employed part-time or who have given up looking for work) is very high--16.8 percent.
The Times editorial quoted statistics showing that 44 percent of today's college graduates hold jobs that do not require a college education. There was a time, the Times observed, when people working in jobs that did not require a college degree made decent money--tradespeople like plumbers and electricians, union workers, etc. Today, a lot of college-educated young people are working as waitresses, bar tenders and store clerks.
Perhaps the most disturbing bit of data the Times mentioned is the fact that more than half of young adults (55 percent) still live with their parents. Nobody wants to see that number go higher.
The Times editorial did not mention the burgeoning student-loan indebtedness that is crushing this nation's young adults. And this is odd, because of all the problems this generation passed on to the Millennial generation, the federal student-loan mess is the most egregious and the easiest one to fix.
Addressing climate change, the national debt, and our sickly national economy are complicated problems with no easy or certain solution. But we could easily do some things to ease the burden of student-loan indebtedness on our nation's young people; and we could do these things today. Here are a few things we could do that would be helpful:
1) The federal government could remove any higher education institution from the federal student loan program that does not freeze tuition and fees at current levels. In essence, our government would be telling the nation's porky colleges and universities that the party is over.
2) Congress could amend the Bankruptcy Code to allow insolvent student-loan debtors to discharge their loans in the bankruptcy courts so long as they file for bankruptcy in good faith.
3) The Obama Administration could instruct the Internal Revenue Service to stop garnishing the Social Security checks of elderly people who defaulted on their college loans.
4) Congress could easily shut down the private student-loan industry by making it easier for distressed debtors to discharge their private student loans in bankruptcy.
5) Congress could shut down the for-profit college industry, which has the highest student-loan default rates and which is riddled with fraud and abuse, simply by making all for-profit colleges ineligible to participate in the federal student aid program.
Of course none of these things are going to happen. So far, the Obama administration, which is fully aware of the magnitude of the student-loan crisis, can think of nothing better to do than extend students' loan repayment period from 10 years to 20 or 25 years. Not very bold or creative in my opinion.
But Frank Bruni is right: the Baby Boomers generation owes the Millennial generation an apology. But it should apologize for more than global warning and the national debt; it should say it is sorry for corrupting higher education with a corpulent and abusive federal student loan program that has put this nation's young people in debt to the tune of $1.2 trillion.
Frank Bruni. Dear Millennials, We're Sorry. New York Times, June 8, 2014, Sunday Review Section, p. 3.
Editorial. Starting Out Behind. New York Times, June 8, 2014, Sunday Review Section, p. 10.