To Relieve Or Not To Relieve
I am conflicted about President Biden’s recent student loan forgiveness.
My initial reaction?
Anger and annoyance. As someone who prioritized paying back his loans, it strikes me as unfair. For two years, I directed upwards of 75% of my income to “get these monkeys” on my back as my grandpa was fond to say. I didn’t travel out of state and took minimal vacations. I didn’t buy many expensive electronics, such as video games. I kept a rigorous daily budget, only allotting $10–15 for food most days and cheap entertainment.
Why should I be responsible while others aren’t? I’d have more sympathy if the income limit was lowered. For instance, 1–1.5 times the median poverty level for the nation or respective state. However, as the legislation currently sits, singles making $125,000 or couples making $250,000 can whisk away up to $20,000 grand. I do not make that much, so listening to people who make more money and who were less financially responsible wipe away debt “grinds my gears” as Family Guy’s Peter Griffin would say.
Student loan forgiveness doesn’t address the problem of increasing college costs. As my friend and public policy analyst illustrates on his blog, wiping away debt instead of making college affordable is like attacking a disease’s symptom instead of a cause, in addition to a whole host of other issues. How long until the next batch of debt is wiped away? All the while college gets more and more expensive, with no end in sight.
Nevertheless, I do feel empathy. A fair amount of those who went to college have not had their financial dreams pay off 5–10 years plus after graduation, while incurring a significant financial burden. The generations following the Baby Boomers- Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z- were constantly told to go to college when growing up in order to achieve a decent life. Alternatives to the traditional four year university were too seldom explored or suggested. Sure, an adult signed on the dotted line, but what about all the events that got them to pick up the pen?
As we have seen since 2008, those who need bailouts and financial aid the least seem to get it most. Automakers, airlines, businesses and Wall Street have globed up vast sums in the last 15 years.
Who had to pay for it? Taxpayers, many of whom will never reach the incomes and riches of those bailed out. Even if the logic behind the forgiveness is flawed, it’s nice to see the “little guy” get a break.
What to do? Should student loans stay or go?
In my mind, some policy modifications would help, if we insist on keeping them:
1. Income limit. Why do people making 6 figure salaries need student loan forgiveness? They don’t. So concentrate the relief for people making the median annual income or lower.
2. Targeted at specific fields. We all know how teachers, social workers and the like don’t make nearly as much as other jobs, tying into point one. These workers provide a valuable service while not being adequately compensation in a society that doesn’t know how to fully appreciate their skills. It’s no coincidence why many of these fields seem to have never ending “shortages.” Why not offer more relief to existing programs, since these workers most likely will never achieve the income of doctors, lawyers and high powered professions?
3. Incorporate counter-measures to reduce college’s cost. Rather than solely wiping away debt, make it address the real causes for student loans in the first place: skyrocketing tuition. I am partial to whatever the government “forgives” must be deducted from future student loans. For instance, if the government forgives $30 billion of past loans, it will give out $30 billion less of future loans.
4. Retroactive forgiveness. Many, such as myself, have already paid off our loans. Why not reward responsibility?
Finally, I want to address the crowd most offended by loan forgiveness. I comprehend your moral outrage, and agree with the principle of personal responsibility. However, don’t take any money if you don’t need it.
No doubt there will be some who publicly denounce but privately take relief. Personal responsibility requires you to be always principled, not just when it’s convenient. Ok, you can argue “don’t hate the player, hate the game” but that logic absolves participants of moral responsibility. I grant that you didn’t make the system corrupt, but failing to challenge it perpetuates it.
If the government and loan forgiveness are corrupt, then entering in a bargain with them makes you corrupt as well, no matter how you may not want to hear it.
As always, student loan forgiveness is complicated and conflicting.
Let’s have a dialogue about it rather than retreat into partisan caves.