If your 73-year-old mother is waiting for tables to pay your college debts, the system may be down

In the increasingly noisy and tense debate over what to do about the $1.75 trillion college debt bombshell—not to mention the morality or immorality of this festering crisis—the he image of a 73-year-old mother waiting at the tables has become the ultimate Rorschach test.

For conservative Fox News cable host Laura Ingraham, the daughter of the septuagenarian in this saga, and her allies on the American right, the fact that her mother continued to work standing up as a waitress into the traditional retirement years to finish pay Her children’s college education, including some unpaid debts, is a tribute to the courage and determination that helps families move forward.

“Loan forgiveness,” Ingraham tweeted last week, is “just another insult to those who play by the rules.”

But critics have pounced on the story as proof that the game itself is twisted. The college loan crisis in the United States, which essentially accelerated from 10 to 85 mph in the first 22 years of this millennium, critics rightly claim, is a largely fabricated event that has wreaked havoc on middle and working classes. While millions of young people find themselves trapped in their parents’ basements because they are too in debt to have their own place to live, many parents like Ingraham’s mother have sacrificed their own retirement.

“We want 73-year-old mums to work less and rest,” Daily Beast columnist Wajahat Ali wrote on Twitter. “We want others to have a better life. We don’t need people to suffer to “feel good again”.

There is no doubt that American life was not meant to be like this. But now that we’ve made this giant mess, there’s no easy answer as to what to do about it either.

President Joe Biden is about to do his best. After months of harassment from lawyers reminding him of his (albeit ambiguous) 2020 campaign promise to eliminate at least $10,000 from each individual’s debt burden and see his approval numbers with young voters drop, the 46th president is on the verge of a major change by then and Aug. 31. That’s when a pandemic-driven pause of more than two years in loan repayments is set to end.

The Washington Post this weekend revealed the broad outlines of what the Biden administration envisions: a massive college debt forgiveness program that would erase at least $10,000 from most student loans, albeit with income limits that would exclude high earners. It is possible that income and loan data could be used to provide higher levels of relief to certain debtors. The plan would only target loans for undergraduate studies.

The half-loaf solution — some Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren have called for at least $50,000 per student, and activist groups like the Debt Collective want full relief — is a giant leap that will likely do a lot nonetheless. people on both sides unhappy. Some people on the left will likely complain that Biden should have done more; the $10,000 option costs $245 billion, leaving the majority of the $1.75 trillion untouched. Yet the Conservatives are already sharpening their knives to attack the fundamental concept of tolerance.

“It’s a slap in the face,” Brian Riedl, a conservative political analyst at the Manhattan Institute, told The Post, complaining that the move is essentially a political reward for the urban professionals who increasingly form the Democratic Party’s base. Lawmakers and conservative activists will likely challenge in court whether the president even has the legal authority to make such a decision through executive action, rather than going through Congress.

It is unfortunate that the fate of this initiative could be decided by the increasingly right-wing federal judiciary, fried by Trump, because canceling these debts on a large scale, and probably totally, is the right thing to do from a point of view. from a moral point of view. The bizarre saga of Laura Ingraham’s mummy waitress was just one of many stories which swept through social media over the weekend – most illustrating how the burden of college debt has kept them or their families from living their best life.

Michelle Miller, labor activist from West Virginia, tweeted about his mother, who had split Miller’s $30,000 debt, but then struggled to repay his half. Despite medical and professional setbacks, she refused to let her daughter take on the obligation. “The difference [between] poverty and doing well was the $400 monthly payment on those student loans,” she wrote. Even as the mother’s health deteriorated rapidly, she insisted on paying.

“That’s what we talked about the last week my mom was alive,” Miller wrote. ” The loans. Student [expletive deleted] loans. It wasn’t until his mother’s death that Miller learned that the initial $15,000 had ballooned to $80,000, although a bank eventually agreed to forgive the deceased woman’s debt.

» READ MORE: The clock is ticking for Biden on the college debt bombshell | Will Bunch Newsletter

A whopping 45 million Americans have college debt right now, and each of them has a different story. What most people don’t realize is how many of those loan recipients — nearly 40%, according to the best research — weren’t able to graduate and ended up in the worst of both worlds, struggling to get a good enough job. to meet their monthly payments. The Biden administration hopes the $10,000 figure will help this category especially.

Young people who have received loans – but no help with the many other hassles that middle-class children face when they graduate – are only part of the moral argument for the cancellation of the loan, which, in my opinion, counts more than any economic argument. . In one way or another, almost every American who has gone to college since the 1980s has been sold a bill of goods.

For some, the scheme was egregious, as low-income kids desperate to climb the ladder were targeted by often fraudulent for-profit universities that used boiler room recruiting tactics and tricked students into maximizing their loans, in a system in which schools got all the Washington dollars as these youngsters taught underwhelming job skills were on the hook, even assuming they graduated.

But even children who have gone to reputable public or private universities have been cheated. That’s because conservative state lawmakers removed college as a “public good” and cut funding for higher education at the exact time rapid changes in the economy made a degree University virtually the only valid passport to staying middle class and at the same time colleges have fought to woo students with expensive prestige branding rather than any effort to keep tuition low.

Don’t take it from me (even though I just wrote an entire book on this subject), but take it from Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who wrote this weekend that “[e]even those who weren’t outright deceived, however, were lured in by elite messages assuring them that a college degree was a ticket to financial success” – when for so many it was not the cases, because of dropouts or income below expectations .

Massive debt cancellation — the bigger the better, frankly — is really the only way to right a great American wrong. But as Biden is poised to make the boldest move of his presidency yet, his efforts will nonetheless fail unless he thinks much, much bigger.

Here’s the problem: Currently, only about 37 percent of American adults have a four-year college degree. But “the college problem” is really a much bigger problem in how we prepare 100% of our young people – the third who gets a bachelor’s degree, the third who goes to college but doesn’t, and the third who stops after high school – to become adult citizens. The same lack of vision that created the student loan crisis has also created a situation where many working-class families cannot even contemplate college and often develop cultural resentments towards those who do.

A student loan fix is ​​right, moral and absolutely necessary and yet doomed to failure in the long run without a great market to essentially redefine the meaning of higher education for Americans after they turn 18. This means that baby boomers who were able to attend universities publicly for next to nothing (or for free!) in the 1960s and 1970s must use their influence to bring back this notion of higher education as a public good. But it also means free community college, free trade school, and other educational opportunities for the millions of people who want to live fulfilling adult lives without going to a college campus.

I have also argued in this column and in my book that the government should support a universal “gap year” of national civil service for 18-year-olds, so they can start adulthood with hope rather than with anxiety, focusing on what Americans have in common rather than our increasingly bitter political and cultural divides.

Red state politicians, whose young voters would benefit greatly from this program, are reportedly fighting it tooth and nail, insisting that there is no way America can afford it. They are wrong. There’s no way America can afford not to. We have the money. We prove it every year when we spend hundreds of billions on increasingly useless weapons of war, or spend more money on police tactics that fail to keep people safe. We could spend that money on real security – the security of a guaranteed future for our young people, free from the anguish of debt, or work that extra job until the day you die.

It’s taken us decades to create a mindset so warped that many people no longer think twice about the utter madness of a 73-year-old man who can’t retire because of college loans – in debt to pay for what so clearly should be a public good. So we cannot solve this problem overnight. But 2022 would be a damn good time for Biden, Congress, and the generations that created this fiasco to begin with.

CHRONOMIST’S NOTE: So how and why did we create such a mess? Please come back on Tuesday for my weekly newsletter (you can register here to have it delivered to your inbox – it’s easy and it’s free) as I write about the cosmic connection between today’s sky-high tuition fees and an untold tragedy that happened there 52 years ago this week.

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Julio V. Miller