Going into Debt Just to Survive

Student loan debt has reached record levels – over one trillion dollars – and has now surpassed credit card debt for the first time in U.S. history. The sad truth is, this isn’t even a surprise. Across the country, workers have been forced to take on increasingly more debt because we can’t even afford to live.

If we want an education, we have to borrow. If we want to live in a home, we have to borrow some more. If we have an unexpected medical expense or a car repair or we have children or if the bills go up or the rent is due – in every case the options are the same, go even further into debt. Even for things like gas and groceries we have to rely on our credit cards more than our own paychecks. Everything we need in life seems like just another way to go further into debt.

Individuals with debt are made out to be the bad guys, as if they couldn’t control their spending and brought the situation on themselves. Debt isn’t an individual problem or a character flaw. Debt is a regular part of life – an economic condition that we’re forced into without a chance to escape. And today, the reality is that workers have taken on tens of thousands of dollars of debt just to have an even lower standard of living than before.

Most people who decide to go to school do so to get a better paying job, to escape falling into debt. But now the cost of education is increasing to record levels and there are fewer jobs available that require a degree. Since 2007, the number of unemployed college graduates has nearly doubled. So today more college graduates are finding themselves in the same spot they would have been in if they hadn’t gone to school in the first place.

But the difference now is when they leave college and start looking for work, they start out with a mountain of debt. What was supposed to be a head start, is now actually setting many young workers back – graduating with an average of $25,000 in debt. Once a student graduates it’s time to shovel on the rest of the debt that has now become a part of everyday life.

Wages have dropped further and further behind the rising cost of living. To make up for low wages and just to get by, workers have to rely on credit cards or check cashing centers that scam people out of their money. Average credit card debt is now $15,956 per household.

None of this debt includes all the money people had to borrow just to buy a home to live in. The banks tricked people into buying homes and then jacked up the interest rates to levels where people couldn’t afford to keep their homes. Housing prices soared and the banks made out like crooks. Millions of families lost their homes or are still losing them and millions more owe the banks more money than what their homes are even worth.

While families were being forced into foreclosures, the banks claimed they didn’t have enough money and the government gave over $12 trillion in bailouts or zero percent loans. This, along with tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy, has created the largest public debt in history – over $15 trillion.

So, on top of all the debt we already took on for our education, our cars, our healthcare, our homes and our daily necessities, now we have to pay for the economic crisis through the gutting of public services and social programs. Our libraries, schools, hospitals and even fire departments are shutting their doors to pay for this debt. Public transportation, programs for children and the elderly and student aid are all being completely cut or gutted. And the cutting of social programs without our wages getting any better means that we need to take on even more debt just to get by.

We are being more heavily chained to debt than ever before. If we need to go into debt just to get what we need, then we can’t even afford to live a decent life. We have to take two steps backward for every step forward.

In the past, this was called being an indentured servant. But today, we’re just called workers.