This is part two of a two-part series on why millennials need to vote in 2014. Part one focuses on equality. This part focuses on student loan debt.
Student Loan Debt
Millennials aren’t just a new group of people born during a specific time frame; they’re also a group facing unprecedented challenges. Millennials face economic challenges that differ from their parents’ generation, such as deciding to move back home after college or delaying saving for retirement. These tough decisions have arisen for millennials because of the $1.1 trillion owed in student loan debt–a statistic second only to the amount of debt owed to home mortgages.
It’s no wonder student loan debt is one of the group’s top concerns when you consider the bleak facts: public four-year institutions’ tuition rose 257 percent between 1982 and 2012, two years following graduation, half of graduates still rely on their parents for financial assistance, half of millennials live paycheck-to-paycheck, one-third regret going to college, and the average amount of debt accumulated is around $27,500–about $15,000 more than it was in 1993.
Student loan debt has risen with the cost of tuition and is made more problematic by the weak job market for recent college graduates. The debt is not just a problem for millennials themselves–experts agree that there could be a rippling effect on the economy, as many young people wait to start families, buy cars and houses, and open small businesses.
Rohit Chopra, an official in charge of investigating complaints of inappropriate administration of student loans at the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, discussed the rippling effect in an interview with USA Today. Chopra said:
If student debt is a roadblock to economic opportunity, that really undermines a philosophy of how America has moved forward and prospered. So many Americans have taken risks to start small businesses, to buy a home, and that has been a traditional way in which our economy has moved forward and people have achieved economic milestones.
Minnesota has the fourth highest spot for average student loan debt ($31,497), and the fourth highest spot for percentage of the population with outstanding debt (70 percent) in the nation. These disturbing statistics need to be met with serious action if the future generations of Minnesotans expect to prosper economically, and that’s exactly what Senator Al Franken has been doing.
Recently, Sen. Franken threw his support behind Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, which would allow those with student loan debt to refinance their loans in order to get the lower interest rate currently offered to new borrowers.
Unfortunately for millenials, earlier this month Senate Republicans blocked Sen. Warren’s bill because there is little chance of the GOP backing a bill that calls for the creation of a new tax on millionaires to offset the cost of lowering interest rates for students. Republicans also accused Democrats of “looking for a political issue to capitalize on during election year,” as if the 37 million Americans with outstanding student loans exist only as a “political issue.”
Sen. Franken expressed his concern toward the Republican refusal to put students before millionaires. He said:
We’re very disappointed. This was not a political stunt…we will revisit this, and it will get done.
Supporting Sen. Warren’s bill is far from all Sen. Franken has done in an attempt to alleviate the stresses from student loan debt. He introduced a bill that would require colleges to use a uniform financial aid letter to cut confusion about the financial aid process that so many millennials didn’t understand they were getting themselves into. Toward the end of last year, Sen. Franken also introduced the Affordable College Textbook Act, which would expand affordable textbooks by putting resources online and give students cheaper alternatives to expensive supplies.
So where does Sen. Franken’s Republican opponent, Mike McFadden, stand on this important issue?
In an article by the Star Tribune chronicling the Republican-blocked student loan bill, there was only one sentence about McFadden. The lone statement read:
College Democrats from several Minnesota campuses sent out press releases before Wednesday’s vote, urging Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden to take a stand on the bill.
In fact, the one time McFadden has said anything at all about the rates of student loan debt, he managed to alienate students in favor of supporting the rich. In an interview with MinnPost, McFadden said, “student loans need to be tied to market rates.” In the language of Republicans, tying student loan rates to the market links them directly to Wall Street, which also finances student loans. By connecting student loan rates with the market, it makes it easier for Wall Street to keep its rates competitive with what the federal government offers.
When McFadden finally touched on student loan debt, he did it with big corporations in mind, and his colleagues in Washington are blocking relief for graduates burdened by student loan debt. Young people should remember that when they go to pay their student loan bills every month.
Minnesotan Millennials: The Future Is In Your Hands
The upcoming 2014 U.S. Senate election will create two scenarios for Minnesota. The first: Sen. Franken wins reelection, and the battles for equality for all and tackling student loan debt will proceed with vigor as we continue working with progressive leaders. The second: McFadden snags a Senate seat and then works in favor of businesses and the rich.
It’s millennials who care about these issues, and it’s up to them to decide if their future is worth heading to a voting booth in November. Their silence may just be enough to send another shill for Wall Street to Washington.