by Preston Price
Burden of Student Debt
Student loan debt in the U.S. is at a record high. The national average of student loan debt for the graduates of 2015 is more than $35,000 per student.1 In Oregon, the average loan debt per student is more than $25,500, ranking 30th among the 50 states.2 This is outrageous, and it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Some students, especially those who go to graduate school, have more debt than the national average. The national student debt totals over $1 trillion dollars,3 ranking as the second largest form of personal debt in the U.S. just behind home mortgage debt, and also just barely ranking behind the amount of debt the U.S. owes to China.4 Younger people are not the only ones with debt. According to CNN, $18 billion of the national loan debt is held by senior citizens.5 How are we expected to pay back such high loan debt?
Low-Wage Work Cannot Pay Back Loans
Those of us who go to college do so for many reasons, and getting a higher paying job is one of those reasons. However, living wage jobs are few and far between. Nearly half of all new jobs in Oregon are low wage jobs. There are nine job seekers for every living wage job, as well. In the U.S., there are almost 6.5 million more people with bachelor’s degrees than there are available jobs that require that degree, and about one-third of people with a bachelor’s degree hold jobs that they are over-qualified for.6
Oregon’s minimum wage of $9.25 per hour is simply not enough to pay back student loan debt when you also have to pay for rent, transportation, health insurance, food, and other basic costs. Yes, we do have other options for paying back loans. However, they come at a significant cost. For every year our payments are extended, we students have to pay extra in interest payments. Some repayment plans extend 300 months into the future. That is 300 monthly payments, if one is fortunate enough to have enough money every month to pay.
$15 a start to a future without debt
As a foundation, $15 per hour would ease the payment process for every Oregonian with student debt, while also easing the burden of having to look for living wage jobs that do not exist in the present economic circumstances. College students would better be able to pay for their tuition, and could take out fewer loans if they made $15 per hour. Not to mention that those in high school working a job would be able to save for college while helping out family members with other bills. Lastly, parents and grandparents would not be saddled with loan debt that they often acquire by taking out loans for their children or grandchildren to pay for college. This would allow them to think about retirement rather than paying off more debt.
Being able to pay off one’s debt while also paying other bills and getting out of the house for a little entertainment every once in a while is a matter of dignity for all Oregonians. We have a chance to change the climate in Oregon and act as a harbinger for the rest of the nation by giving people a chance at living a life with dignity. Let us join in and continue the fight for $15!