Friday, May 19, 2017

Will the Student Loan Crisis Bring Down the Economy? My Pessimistic View

Mike Krieger recently posted a blog on Liberty Blitzkrieg in which he argued that two issues will dominate American politics in the coming years: health care and student loans.

"Going forward," Krieger wrote,  "I believe two issues will define the future of American politics: student loans and healthcare. Both these things . . .  have crushed the youth and are prevent[ing] a generation from buying homes and starting families. The youth will eventually revolt, and student loans and healthcare will have to be dealt with in a very major way, not with tinkering around the edges."

Krieger concluded his essay with this pessimistic observation:
Student loans and healthcare are both ticking time bombs and I see no real effort underway to tackle them at the macro level where they need to be addressed. Watch these two issues closely going forward, as I think fury at both will be the main driver behind the next populist wave.
Krieger's dismal projection regarding student loans is supported by recent reports from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.  The Fed reported that more than 44 million people are now burdened by student loans. About 4.7 million borrowers are in default and another 2.4 million are delinquent.

Moreover, a lot of this debt is carried by older Americans. According to Fed data, $216 billion is owed by people who are 50 years old or older. And we know from other sources that student loan debt is following people into their retirement years. In fact, about 170,000 people are having their Social Security checks garnished due to student loans that are in default.

Borrowers carry debt levels of varying amounts, but the Fed reported that 2 million people owe $100,000 or more on student loans. Interestingly, people with small levels of debt are more likely to default than people who have high levels of indebtedness. In the 2009 cohort, 34 percent of people who owed $5,000 or less had defaulted within five years. Among people owing $100,000 or more, only 18 percent defaulted during this same period.

And of course default rates don't tell the full story. Almost 6 million people have signed up for income-driven repayment plans, and most are making payments so low they will never pay off their loans. Millions more have loans in deferment or forbearance; and these people aren't even making token loan payments. Meanwhile, interest is accruing on their loans, making it more difficult for borrowers to pay them off once they resume making payments.

Surely, this rising level of student-loan indebtedness has an impact on the American economy. According to the New York Times, student loans now constitutes 11 percent of total household indebtedness--up from just 5 percent in 2008.  Obviously, Americans with burdensome levels of student-loan debt are finding it more difficult to buy homes, start families, save for retirement or even purchase basic consumer items.  No wonder sales at brick-and-mortar retail stores are down and the casual dining industry is on the skids.

So far, as Krieger pointed out, our government is tinkering around the edges of the student loan crisis, making ineffective efforts to rein in the for-profit college industry and urging students to sign up for long-term income-driven repayment plans.

But this strategy is not working. According to the General Accounting Office, about half the people who sign up for income-driven repayment plans are kicked out for noncompliance with the plans' terms. The for-profit colleges, beaten back a bit by reform efforts during President Obama's administration, have come roaring back, advertising their overpriced programs on television.

All this will end badly, but our government is doing everything it can to forestall the day of judgment. In Price v. U.S. Department of Education, a case I wrote about earlier this week, the Department of Education took six years to make the erroneous decision that a University of Phoenix graduate was not entitled to have her loans forgiven. DOE's ruling clearly violated federal law, and the Phoenix grad finally won relief in federal court.

But DOE isn't concerned about following the law. It just wants to stall for time--knowing that a student-loan apocalypse is not too far away.
The Student Loan Apocalypse


Michael Corkery and Stacy Cowley. Household Debt Makes a Comeback in the U.S. New York Times, May 17, 2017.

Mike Krieger. Student Loans and Healthcare--Two Issues that Will Define American Politics Going Forward. Liberty Blitzkrieg, May 4, 2017.

Meta Brown, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klaauw. Looking at Student Loan Defaults through a Larger Window. Liberty Street Economics (Federal Reserve Bank of New York. February 19, 2015.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog post! I don’t understand how long it will require me to obtain through all of them!
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