I was talking to a long-time friend yesterday who is at her wit’s end, pretty much ready to commit suicide or leave the country because of debt. She’s done everything she was told to do in order to have a better life — with no tangible return on her investment and it’s killing her literally.
My friend completed high school, but didn’t have any scholarships and savings for college. She went to college and borrowed money for her Business degree. She tried to find work that would enable her to pay off her debt, live, and pursue the American dream. All these things seemed to happen during a time when America was good — good for her parents, but becoming more and more unkind to her generation.
Employers were moving overseas in the late 90s after NAFTA was signed. Jobs began requiring specific training and tech skill sets for jobs prior to hiring prospective employees in addition to wanting candidates with experience (and sometimes little to no experience so that they can pay these people less). Employers began keeping more of the profits and sharing less. There were fewer raises and fewer opportunities to climb the corporate ladder due to old greedy older employees simply refusing to retire in order to make room for the next generation to take care of their families the way they’d take care of theirs.
Now the old-timers at her workplace wanted earn their “play money” for extravagant vacations and to cushion their savings to leave their grandchildren which kept many young degreed professionals stagnant in the workforce.
Meanwhile, my friends’ student loan debt is accruing interests, but she’s still trying to do all the stuff she was taught by her parents and in school about living the America dream. So, she finds a mate, they marry — he has student loan debt to — but they have enough income to buy a home even though they don’t really have any savings. Then children come, then life happens, and the next thing you know — their job becomes their lifeline. Things get a little more stressful as her kid ages due to the lack of money.
My friend desperately seeks jobs but for some reason, she’s been unable to move and she doesn’t know why. Maybe it’s her ethnic name on her resume that gets it put in the garbage by the HR representative. Maybe it’s her age — she’s no longer young, vibrant and spry. The gradation date from college tells on her. Maybe there are a lot of people looking for work. All she knows is she’s trying to move and nothing happens.
Then — the layoff happens.
She loses her job and just like that — her world is changed forever. Nearly, 15 years later and she’s still paying the price for her decision to go to college.
When she lost her job, it made her less attractive to employers. For some reason, they want to steal employed folks. People unemployed are seen as not as attractive and a “risk” (isn’t that stupid and backward). Because she worked in business, her credit mattered — so even if she made it to being considered for employment, due to the late payments on her credit report because of the lack of income made it impossible for her to get work. Oh yeah and she’s house poor too.
Every place she went to work she needed a background check, including credit. All the credit runs in addition to late payments put a hurting on her and did not increase her job prospects. Actually, looking for work was making things worse. Her bills were getting behind, and she and her hubby were barely making it. The strain of debt and my friends lacking ability to secure work began to take a toll on their marriage. Hubby has been supportive for a long time, but now he’s also feeling the stress of debt, having to shoulder it all alone. The little savings they had are long gone, and they are living paycheck to paycheck.
Hubby’s stress at home leads him to someone else’s bed — and eventually (after the affair was discovered) a divorce. After the infidelity was discovered, they once happy but struggling couple decided to split.
My friend was forced to move from her home since she could no longer afford it, and she and her child moved in with friends until she eventually told her mother. Now she has completely moved back home into her mom’s place. Her child had to change schools and make new friends. She no longer has her own old room. She has a room at grandma’s house. Then she had to hire an attorney with the help of her mom. She wasn’t able to make student loan payments and after forbearance and smaller payments — that even became too much for her. Her student went into default.
She feels as though college was the worst decision she could have ever made. She feels going into debt for a college education has ruined her life. My friend regrets it dearly. The debt of education is like a plague that just won’t go away.
The ex-hubby has since moved onto his new girlfriend — who of course has a job and no kids. They live together in my friend’s old home that she could no longer afford.
The divorce left her with a substantial amount of marital debt. Just one more thing to add to her credit. Now she’s literally unemployable.
She’s Got The I Cants
Debt has crippled my friend to the point where she can’t survive. She can’t work because she has bad credit. No one will hire her because she’s a risk. Because she’s unable to be hired, she can’t pay back her debt and work on her credit rating to improve it. She can’t open a bank account because they check credit ratings for creditworthiness. She can’t rent an apartment or lease a home even if she found a halfway decent job — because she’s got defaulted student loans and poor credit. She’s limited to living on the cash system.
It’s just a vicious, never-ending cycle with accruing debt. A debt she was promised all her young life that would pay off for her. It not only hasn’t paid off for her, it’s ruined her life. She has no life, neither does her child. She’s forced to side-hustle her way through life and not being able to participate in America’s capitalistic economy the way other people can.
She can’t go on vacations. She has no health insurance. She receives food stamps for her daughter and herself because she’s “low-income” now but because she has a degree — there are no programs to help her to get back on her feet in her area. Life today requires you to be “perfect unblemished” in order to participate in society today.
Having bad credit today is like having a felony on your criminal background check — or any type of crime for that matter. And lord don’t have both — you may as well have the plague. It’s nearly impossible to survive today if you aren’t rich, well-connected, or aren’t criminally minded sadly. This is the real reason crime is so high today. American capitalism forces people to be terrible human beings unable to take care of themselves.
Having a student loan today is not worth it in her opinion, because there is no longer the guarantee of being able to take care of yourself without the help of a partner, roommate or parent — and there is no guarantee that your degree, even a good one, will pay for itself.
Nothing Is Certain These Days
Gone are the days of being able to rely on an employer to wash your back with a paycheck as you wash its back to help further their business objectives. Today, all men are for themselves. Corporations rule. Institutions are allowed to pick who makes it and who doesn’t. And politicians seem absolutely oblivious to how employers discriminating against unemployed people hurts everyday people. It’s very sad to watch a good person struggle the way she does. It’s also terrible how the fantasy of debt has been sold to the American people from such a young age.
You go from being a footloose and fancy-free college student to a recluse dodging harassing bill collectors about debts you would love to pay off if an employer would allow you the opportunity to prove yourself worthy. School doesn’t prepare any of us for this kind of reality. Neither did our parents. Neither did the greedy, selfish generation before us who accrued the most wealth so that the next generation wouldn’t be able to accrue any. What a way to care for our future, right?
You can do everything right (i.e. not get pregnant too early, go to college and finish, get a good job, not go to jail, etc.) and still end up poor, homeless, divorced, destitute, and forgotten.
A four-year degree isn’t what it used to be. Today it’s the punishment that keeps on punishing. I’m advising my grandkids to go to trade school locally when they finish school, if there is a world with schools in it left. It’s the only way to guarantee they may have some semblance of a peaceful, stress-reduced life. The days of chasing the American dream are over.
I’m teaching my kids and grandkids to just try to make it out here in this world. Trying to live to consume is killing us. Trying to punch “American Dream” tickets is getting us no place. Trying to remain perfect and flawless in an imperfect, capitalistic economy is an unattainable goal. Employers run America, the people — the employees don’t, and as long as this is so — our destinies are not ours to control.
Corporate America and our flawed trade acts, regulations, and policies created by our government officials actually control our destinies today. They decide whether we’re made or broken.
I don’t really know what my friend plans to do. Suicide is not an option (I’m not having any of that). I told her you can’t get blood from a turnip. We have discussed taking jobs abroad — but that requires having a support system that isn’t guaranteed. She has also considered giving up her citizenship. I think that suggestion hurt me the most. Her citizenship hold not value to her anymore.
The bottom line is if you can’t work — you can’t pay anyone. It’s as simple as that. I told her to disconnect your phone or get a new number and don’t give it to anyone. That’ll bring her some peace. I also advised her to devise a plan to work under the table. It’s the only way she’s going to make it. Hustling. She finds it degrading with her education and experience. I told her there is no such thing. Work is work, it doesn’t matter if it’s degrading if it puts food on the table. Never allow an employer to lay you off and put you in this situation again — ever.
Because only perfect people get to work — or those who make the rules for those of us seeking work.
It’s easy for me to say these things. It’s not my life. But I do feel her pain. Her story reminded me of a saying my late great-grandfather used to tell me long ago. He used to say long-time ago families had to stay together to survive because it was so hard for one person to make it alone. He lived through the Great Depression and said he believed those days were coming back. I never thought I’d see the day, but it’s here.
Our local, state, and federal governments allow employers to discriminate for all sorts of reasons (to include being unemployed, age, and creditworthiness even if another employer was responsible for your lack of employment), so they clearly don’t care if they get their student loan money back since being employed is the only way that’ll ever happen.
Too many of us are head over heels in love or involved with debt, and it’s killing us. It’s a maze we will never get out of. Capitalism is killing us softly, and people seem to be absolutely alright with it.
We need to have real talk with our family members about money and debt. Sometimes what we want (or what we think we want) in the short -term may not always be good for us in the long run. And sometimes our government throws us curve balls that some of us with generational wealth gaps are unable to ever come. It’s the cycle of poverty people can’t seem to connect with. While the poverty of someone with a degree looks different, it’s feels just like the poverty of a high school dropout or an ex-felon.
Poverty is painful.
We need to coin a term for people who have degrees yet are still poor — degree poor. It’s like house poor — except the debt incurred from attaining that degree can keep us from getting that house.
Debt is killing us, and degrees are keeping too many of us poor.