9/13/15: The student debt many Americans took on in their youth is following them to the grave.
Now many of these student debtors are seniors whose Social Security benefits are being garnished to continue to pay those loans they took out a lifetime ago.
In the 1950s and 1960s, young Americans could gain a college education without going into debt. Then, in the late ’60s, conservative politicians, like then-California Governor Ronald Reagan, began to impose tuitions at state universities. Ever since, more and more of the cost of public higher education has been placed on the backs of individual students, through spending cuts, increasing tuitions and an epidemic of student debt.
Now, almost 50 years later, a growing number of today’s seniors – at least 700,000 – who took on student debt in their youth still find themselves making student debt payments – now with their Social Security benefits.
It wasn’t supposed to work this way. Proponents of student loans told us that debt would be paid off quickly, because incomes of college graduates were supposed to increase rapidly. Instead, young people who left school during times of high unemployment had trouble getting jobs with decent wages. And with the burden of hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, the normal stumbles of anyone’s life can turn into disaster, as missed payments result in defaults, penalties, ruined credit – and payments and interest rates can become drastically more expensive.
As a result, today more than 160,000 Social Security beneficiaries currently have a portion of their monthly checks garnished to pay off federal student loans. The original Social Security Act prohibited garnishing retirement benefits, but a 1996 Gingrich-era law stripped away that protection for debts owed to the federal government. And going forward, the number of seniors whose Social Security benefits are being garnished is bound to grow as the students forced into higher and higher debt move into their senior citizen years.
Social Security benefits should be used for today’s living expenses – and no portion should be taken from seniors to pay for student debts incurred a lifetime ago.
So this week we are proud to help launch a movement to stop the garnishment of Social Security . Working together are over 20 activist organizations, some who have been rallying Americans to protect and expand Social Security – and others organizing to reduce the burden of student debt on students, former students and on the U.S. economy.
All these groups are urging citizens to sign a simple petition to send a message to the politicians: Stop Garnishing Social Security to Pay Student Loan Debt!
College should again be debt-free. Large numbers of Americans agree, and in response to pressure from voters, the major Democratic candidates – Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Martin O’Malley – have all put forward proposals aimed at once again achieving this important goal for public higher education.
But two generations of Americans who were forced to take on student loans are still struggling with the debt burden forced on them during our long and mistaken experiment with debt-based higher education. We believe it is time to invoke the age-old concept of Jubilee to cancel all student debt created during that period.
But surely we can take some essential first steps:
1. We should cancel the debt of students ripped off by for-profit schools like Corinthian.
2. We should stop pursuing student debtors into their senior years – especially people who depend on Social Security for most of their income.
If you agree, please take action to tell politicians to Stop Garnishing Social Security benefits to Pay Student Debt.
This piece was also published at the OurFuture.org blog and the Huffington Post.