Student Loan Debt and Suicide

June 5, 2013 3:17 PM11 comments

This Wednesday marked Student Debt Day for activists young and old in the nation’s capital and at key university sites nationally. The focus was the congressional action needed to prevent an impending doubling of interest rates on federally-subsidized student loans, a cruel and unusual punishment that one can hardly imagine even the stingiest of Republicans would permit.

The burden of student debt in America today, almost a trillion dollars’ worth, may be the single worst social ill, the one that is stifling and strangling the best and the brightest of the nation’s next generation, turning them into despondent, under-performing indentured servants, even slaves, to banks who crack the whips over them to demand on-time payments every month.

In a story posted online about student loan debt suicides by the Independent Economic Hardship Reporting Project, co-edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Gary Rivlin and picked up by the Huffington Post, one of the some 200 comments was particularly eloquent for its poignancy:

“In all my creative writing fantasies, of all the bad guys and evil masterminds I’ve dreamt up, I will never be able to match the inventiveness and cruelty of the financial institutions in the U.S.,” the writer said.

He was referring to the case cited in the story of a law student who borrowed $69,000 to study law and, subsequently unable to find work, is hit with penalties upon penalties for late payments to the point that he estimates that when he “retires” he will end up owing $1.9 million.

“Suicide is the dark side of the student lending crisis,” wrote the authors of the Economic Hardship project report. One wrote that when she posted a blog about suicide among student debtors, she was “stunned by the responses.”

“In comment after comment, people confessed to feeling suicidal,” she wrote, citing one person who wrote, “Many of the folks who are incredibly deep in law school debt will end up killing themselves. I think in the next 1-3 years, we are going to see absolutely massive numbers of law school graduate suicides.” Many more spoke to the issue.

Combined with the record numbers of suicides and otherwise psychologically damaged young adults coming home from America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, being unable to find rewarding work, or work at all, we are witnessing a nation almost literally devouring its own young. The pale of despondency is defining an entire generation, and anti-depressant chemical solutions only further doom it to mediocrity.

This is the reality reflected in the data showing that in the last decade, incomes rose only among the top seven percent of the population, but stagnated or declined for all the rest of us.

It raises the question: When is there going to be a Citizens’ Bailout Bill?

How many trillions went to bailing out the banks in the last six years, and why hasn’t any of that helped average citizens climb out of their desperation? Banks have tightened, not eased, access to credit and as home prices now begin to rise, it is again the Wall Street speculators that are setting off yet another financial bubble.

Meanwhile the majority of Americans live “lives of quiet desperation,” clinging to solvency from paycheck to paycheck.

Beyond holding student loan interest rates at current levels, there needs to be a massive easing of the financial burden on average Americans, ways found for personal, mortgage and student loan debt to be charged off entirely.

Cynics blame those who borrowed the money in the first place. But in our economy, for those not born into incredible wealth, the only way to make it is to borrow just for the essentials of life.

It is when the rigid and unrelenting burden of debt bears down on ordinary lives and households, threatening them with ruin, that debt, itself, becomes a very real threat to national security.

The banks and Wall Street try to convince us all that repayment of debt, individually and as a nation, must be our first priority. But that’s only self-serving rhetoric. The country would operate much better if, with the aid of government stabilization measures, it was all just wiped clean.

  • FallsChurchCitizen

    The final sentence is perhaps the most nonsensical thing I’ve ever read on this website, which is of course saying something!

  • Ed_Joyce

    So, Mr. Benton’s solution is to cancel all debt. While we’re at it, I think all food should be free. And why do I have to give the gas station money when I fill up the tank? For that matter, why did I pay for the car, the dealer should have just given it to me. Of course one needs to ask why did that student have to pay $69,000 for law school? The law professors should have taught him pro bono. And I’m sure Mr. Benton doesn’t charge merchants for advertizing. (No problem, because I’m sure he doesn’t pay for the paper, the ink, and the electricity to run his paper.) Living in Bentontopia sure would be great. We’d do and get everything from everyone for free. Why can’t we make it happen?

    • Watcher91186

      But we’re not talking about food being free. Or gas. or cars. Why don’t you stay on topic instead of babbling about things that have nothing to do with the issue. People like you are the problem.

      • Watcher91186

        I have an idea. Lets just pretend everything is great and just let
        things continue to develop in the current direction, just like Professor
        Ed here wants. Lets not do anything because we’re terrified of
        attempting to fix the problem. We’ll just let things get worse because
        we’ve got this nice loud, whiney chunk of the population that seems to
        be of the opinion that there is no solution and every solution is wrong
        because they can’t wrap their brains around it. That way when the
        economy caves in on itself, those of us who saw it coming can sit back
        and laugh while people like this guy are looking around in a stupor with
        their jowls hanging, wondering how it happened. And more importantly,
        why they’re suffering too. I fear that we have a greater issue than
        money will ever be in this country. The lack of compassion and
        willingness to help each other will destroy us. Classic signs of the decline of a civilation.

        • Ed_Joyce

          I was using hyperbole to satirize Mr. Benton’s ludicrious idea, but my (feeble) attempt at humor went over the head of the compassionate Mr. Watcher 91186, who’s more than willing to subsidize bad choices by students and greed and corruption by academia to demonstrate his generosity and benevolence with taxpayer money (not his own, of course). We’ve been throwing federal dollars at the Ivory Tower industrial complex for years now and tuition has soared relative to the rate of inflation. For the federal government to pay off all student loans would encourage more of the same. It would also be unfair to people like me who refused to take student loans and have saved for over 19 years to pay for my kids’ tuition without student loans.

          My jowls aren’t totally hanging down in a stupor. My suggestion: 1) Colleges should be bailing out students, or at least underwriting part of their debt. We pay colleges to provide a service and if a former student can’t get proper employment, then the college has failed. They can cut overhead by laying off administrators to pay for this; 2) College loans should not be “perpetual”, that is, people should be able to declare bankruptcy just as one does mortgages and car loans. That would encourage banks to be more careful about their loans 3) The federal government should get out of the loan business. True, that could mean the end of double majors in Women’s Studies and Comparative Religion, but that’s a sacrifice we should be willing to make. Going to Junior College to learn refrigeration repair is much cheaper and more beneficial to the economy and society.

          Of course, Mr. Watcher 91186 and Mr. Benton will point out that the government did bail out the banks, so why not the common student? That was a huge mistake as well, one that we will pay for sooner or later as the banks now know that no matter what kind malfeasance they engage in the taxpayers will bail them out. Or they would if we weren’t already over $16.9 trillion in debt. Because of this the economy could collapse, not because of me, but because of the corruption of both the Democratic and Republican parties, the people who run Goldman Sachs, and yes, the rent seekers Mr. Benton and Mr. Watcher 91186 are inclined to bail out, those who expect a free ride at the expense of all us. I won’t be laughing when we’re burning our furniture to keep warm, I’ll be guarding my land. Once you get over your amusement, sir, and realize you’re starving, come over to my place. I’ll give you some food, some survival tips and then send you on your way, as I won’t forever subsidize bad choices and rent seeking.

          • Guest

            I never said anything about bailing anyone out. But bankruptcy privileges for those who have been chewed up by private lenders in ways that are illegal in every other market would be a smart move. Do you know anything about those? Are you aware of the manipulation of payments that private lenders do in order to maximize interest payments, minimize principle payments and prolong the life of a loan? Or the complete lack of protections provided for borrowers? Or the multiple failures in processing payments in a timely manner so as to charge additional fees? We’re talking about a completely unregulated market that is destroying the economy. And don’t flatter yourself in regard to the tax comment. I work and I pay taxes just like you do. I’d just prefer to fix the problem as opposed to taking all my “hard earned money” and burying it in the back yard because I’m afraid it might go to someone who actually needs it.

          • Ed_Joyce

            Ok, this getting nowhere. “I never said anything about bailing anyone out” Huh? That was the thrust of Mr. Benton’s editorial. Write off all student loans through the unwitting generosity of the US taxpayers. You appeared to agree with him. If not, what were you trying to say?

            I gave three possible solutions and you ignored two of them, and gave lip service to one. You state that this is a “completely unregulated market”: there are reams of regulations on banking and investing, regulations that are designed to limit competition and reward the politically connected at the expense of the smaller banks. I say simplify a much as possible and allow more competition. You ask if I’m aware of front loaded interest payments: of course I am, I have a mortgage. More than half my monthly payment goes to interest (and Falls Church City tax!). If you don’t like it, don’t take a loan. (And before you say it, I like living in Falls Church City and so am willing to pay its high taxes. But not forever if we keeping raising the rates ever higher.)

            The point I’m trying to make is that people — and corporations — who make bad decisions should not be bailed out by the taxpayers, because if they are, it encourages, and in fact makes inevitable a cycle of bad behavior and dependence. Oh, and economic collapse. Mr. Benton endorses this view. I don’t. If you don’t, great.

            You can have the final word I see no point in further argument.

          • tom thompson

            We could require banks to pay an adjusted rate on the bailouts that matches student loans dollar for dollar. Or we could settle that debt of bad educational investments. Yes it bails out the universities who charged inflated tuition on false promises, but it injects millions of consumers back into goods and service markets instead of wasting their incomes in tuition fees so big banks can make foreign investments. If you really give a fluk about this country you should stop the intelligent crooks robbing it not stupid citizens who buy worthless crap to recycle capital. Ed I respect the choices you made for 19 years, but you’re going to be robbed by sophisticated thieves. Yes bailouts are a terrible idea, but negotiations are an incredible one. Help responsible consumers like Ed by not supporting ideas that strip capital from this country like non deductible interest rates on student loans, an obvious “business” expense. This would allow a student to pay off and return the capital of their education both investing in this countries future and returning the favor to future students. Extra money in college grad pockets would almost entirely be either re invested into goods or domestic markets. The only loser in this idea is a bank who seeks indentured servants through interest capitalization.

    • Guest

      I have an idea. Lets just pretend everything is great and just let things continue to develop in the current direction, just like Professor Ed here wants. Lets not do anything because we’re terrified of attempting to fix the problem. We’ll just let things get worse because we’ve got this nice loud, whiney chunk of the population that seems to be of the opinion that there is no solution and every solution is wrong because they can’t wrap their brains around it. That way when the economy caves in on itself, those of us who saw it coming can sit back and laugh while people like this guy are looking around in a stupor with their jowls hanging, wondering how it happened. And more importantly, why they’re suffering too. I fear that we have a greater issue than money will ever be in this country. The lack of compassion and willingness to help each other will destroy us.

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  • Nancy Burklow

    Like it or not, this problem is not going to get better. It will

    • JFallsChurch

      Military

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