This week, the nation’s most prominent socialists told sob stories about how much college debt my generation maintains to justify sticking their tab to more responsible people. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made the insane claim that she “had to” run for Congress to be able to pay her basic adult bills.
“A year ago, I was waiting tables in a restaurant and it was literally easier for me to become the youngest woman in American history elected to Congress than it is to pay off my student loan debt,” she said. “In order for me to get a chance to have health care, in order for me to get a chance to pay off my student loans, I had to do something that was nearly impossible.”
It’s unclear what she means by doing “something that was nearly impossible.” Getting a job? Deciding not to live in one of the most expensive cities on earth? Choosing not to attend a college that cost her so much she still has between $15,000 and $50,000 in loans?
What Is Everyone Doing With All Their Money?
Members of Congress make $174,000 a year. I realize Ocasio-Cortez has only been in office a few months, but I’ve lived in DC with student loans, just like her. While making approximately a third of her current annual salary together, my husband and I paid off nearly $30,000 in student debt in two years.
It wasn’t that hard, either. We weren’t even eating ramen or rice and beans, which is a legitimate choice people should make over sticking their hands into others’ pockets. We just made most of our own food at home instead of eating out. We owned a car — a junker, definitely, but it got my husband to his job and back.
We even had a baby during the same timeframe, paying plenty of related expenses. We flew ourselves and the baby to Montana and Wisconsin, our home states, for Christmas (and let me tell you, holiday plane tickets to Montana equal many, many round-trip train rides to New York City).
I honestly cannot fathom what Ocasio-Cortez must be doing with her money to not be able to pay off whatever her remaining student loan balance is over this next year on her $174,000 salary. We could have bought a house with that kind of money, which in the DC area requires a down payment of at least 100 Gs. We could only afford an apartment, though, so that’s what we got.
If she’s like other millennials, however, then the problem is not her loans so much as her spending. In 2016, “A survey from Citizens Bank found that fewer than half (47 percent) of millennials, those in the 18-35 age group, who are college graduates, would be willing to limit their online food delivery in return for reducing their student loans.” The majority were also not willing to cut their spending on concerts, sporting events, lattes, vacations, or internet in exchange for smaller student loans.
This is me, in full eyeroll mode. If you want your lattes more than you want your loans paid off, that’s your choice. But then don’t tell me government should force other people to make hard choices when you won’t.
Want to Trade Places With an Illegal Immigrant?
Because it was in America, our loan payoff phase of life was still spectacular: We had hot water and our apartment was safe and clean and in a neighborhood with beautiful wooded paths. We had plenty of healthy food to eat, workplaces with more job protections than anyone really needs and great benefits, and free access to some of the best museums, historical sites, and natural spaces in the world.
Millions of foreigners would — and do — give their own children to get this, and American kids are whining about how mean people are for charging them a fraction of what it truly costs other people to give them more education than 90 percent of the world will ever be able to have. That’s after taxpayers have paid several hundred thousands of dollars to give them a K-12 education.
My husband and I had to work our rear ends off to pay our heavily discounted share of our college educations. My husband had to take what some people would consider a crap job, working at a garbage collection and moving company. Nearly all his coworkers smoked weed and other things, and most didn’t show up to work on time.
Welfare Isn’t Nobler When Middle-Class People Take It
After working the entry-level grunt job at that place, my husband moved up to manager. It meant he had to often fill in for his employees, who had enough welfare access, typically through baby mommas and other women, that they only needed to work enough hours per week to buy their $300 shoes and drugs (I am not making that up). Middle-class people who demand handouts, like college graduates and Medicare recipients, are no better than people who use other forms of welfare when they are fully capable of paying their own way.
To pay off our loans, my husband had to work long, hard, frustrating hours in dirty conditions. But the flexible work allowed us to keep our child out of nonparent care. My salary paid our expenses, and my husband’s paid off our student loans. Thank you, dirty jobs.
My husband pre-paid much of his college tuition the same way: Working outside in the desert sun all summer, hand-digging holes, sometimes through rock, at a fence company for 50 hours a week at age 18. My parents helped me with college, but I also paid most of my own way by earning scholarships that required campus work, as well as working up to three jobs at a time while taking a full load in the honors program at a college that does not mess around with its difficulty level.
We graduated at the height of Obama’s great recession, when jobs were in short supply, especially entry-level. Plenty of our classmates turned their noses up at taking waitressing, labor, or comparable gigs and went home to their mothers’ basements. It was an ego struggle for us too, for sure, but in the end we weren’t too good to take what we could get to pay our own way in life. Nobody else is, either.
This Crisis Is Manufactured to Buy Stupid People’s Votes
The student loan “crisis” is hugely inflated. One-third of students currently graduate from college with no debt. Clearly it remains possible, and not just for those with rich parents. Neither of ours are. At state college and community college tuition rates, it is still possible to work one’s way through college and graduate debt-free.
Further, of those who have debt, the typical amount upon graduation is somewhere near $25,000-$28,000, not these insane stories of $100,000 or more in student loans absent a medical degree. These are not the normal person with college debt. If you consider all adults with outstanding student loan balances, the “crisis” deflates further, as the average balance there is $17,000.
In fact, only one-third of young people have any college debt. According to Pew, “Among adults ages 18 to 29, 37% say they have outstanding student loans for their own education.” So when we hear that student loans are delaying family formation and other adult milestones, perhaps one should ask, “But what is happening with the two-thirds of young adults who don’t have any student debt?”
We should also be asking why it is fair for prudent people to work our rear ends off to pay expenses we’ve incurred then for government to reward people who are not willing to make the same responsible choices. In fact, it’s not fair. It’s unjust. Ocasio-Cortez has the morality backwards. She should be telling herself and her peers to put their big girl pants on and pay their bloomin’ bills — with gratitude instead of resentment.
It would mean that I get punished for my decision to go to an affordable school, graduate early, and work nights to minimize debt. Meanwhile, peers who splurged to go to their dream school get bailed out on the taxpayer's dime.
This is what "economic justice" looks like? https://t.co/fNZnjk6i4Y
— Brad Polumbo (@brad_polumbo) June 25, 2019
Nobody owes anyone a college education. Nobody with a college education is too good to pay it off themselves. And almost all of us are fully capable of paying our own debts. Bankruptcy should be available for the minority who cannot.
If you want your student loans to go away, get a job. Get two or three jobs, if you have to. Move to a less sexy but more rational part of the country than Manhattan or Seattle. Use the debt payoff plan we, and tens of thousands of other people, did. Get married and use one income to pay off the debt and the other to live on for a few years until you have a baby. Stop thinking your band or Instagram feed is going to make you rich some day if you just “invest” enough hours.
If you’re not doing it, you don’t want it hard enough — because in America, every person who is willing to work can get a job right now, and will never lack for health care thanks to our myriad programs of health welfare. It is morally offensive for you to make other people liable for your lack of motivation and responsibility.