Millennials. Everyone has an opinion, especially us. We are “entitled,” “spoiled,” and “lazy” to some; “diverse,” “educated,” and “confident” to others. Try this: “resilient.”
Millennials rode the 90’s boom straight into the dot-com bust. We watched the World Trade Center fall on live TV. We endured (and continued to endure) more than 20 years of conflict on foreign soil—the best among us serving, fighting, and too often sacrificing terribly. We kept our spirits as New Orleans met the Atlantic. We chose the hope of “Yes we can!” while our economic futures folded like cheaply built spec houses.
We soldiered on. We made our gigs work. A lucky lot managed their way to ordinary careers. We saved for our own place, began to marry, started having kids (on purpose), and adulted all the way into 401k’s. Sure, nearly all of us missed out on the post-recession bull market. Yes, we were most often on the receiving end of rising property values. But as the decade closed things were looking up. And then . . . hello COVID-19.
Against this sobering backdrop, you might say the new “lost generation” of 72 million Millennial-age Americans has seen some things. The effects are showing:
Millennials entered the workforce during the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Saddled with debt, unable to accumulate wealth, and stuck in low-benefit, dead-end jobs, they never gained the financial security that their parents, grandparents, or even older siblings enjoyed. [. . . .]
They have smaller savings accounts than prior generations. They have less money invested. They own fewer houses to refinance or rent out or sell. They make less money, and are less likely to have benefits like paid sick leave. They have more than half a trillion dollars of student-loan debt to keep paying off, as well as hefty rent and child-care payments that keep coming due.
Best of all, Millennials are “now entering their peak earning years in the midst of an economic cataclysm more severe than the Great Recession, near guaranteeing that they will be the first generation in modern American history to end up poorer than their parents.”
Que election. Enter the politicians.
As the fight for the Democratic nomination heated up in the summer of 2019, so too did the proposals for addressing the rising student loan balances of Millennial voters. Senator Elizabeth Warren led the way with an initial proposal to cancel $50,000 in student loan debt for anyone with an annual household income of $100,000 or less, to reduce by $1 for every $3 for households with income between $100,000 and $250,000. Senator Bernie Sanders upped the ante by proposing to cancel all federal student loan debt at a cost of $1.6 billion. Then-presidential candidate Biden endorsed a more limited plan to cancel $10,000 per borrower.
Fast forward to 2021 and student loan relief has moved from the realm of probably empty campaign promise to full-blown policy predicament. Many on the Left–increasingly college-educated city dwellers–expect quick action after Democrats won control of the Senate in January. While emboldened, party leadership remains split on what measure of relief to offer, when to do it, for whom, and how.
The lack of clarity is manifesting with harmful consequences. More and more borrowers are purposely defaulting on student loans they hope will disappear. Some may be forgoing the chance to refinance their loans at historically low interest rates. Others face difficult, necessarily uninformed decisions about how best to allocate pandemic-limited resources.
This multi-part series for the Lone Star Bench and Blog hopes to help those navigating the uncertainty surrounding private and federal student loans.
Our first installment will offer a primer on student loans and a quick guide to key relief proposals. The second entry will examine the ongoing clash among policymakers about whether and how to bring about student loan cancellation. Later we will analyze the possible means, likelihood, and impact of the leading proposals for student loan cancellation. To close we will look at other avenues for student loan relief, focusing on potential changes to the Bankruptcy Code and related guidance.
If interested, please subscribe and stay tuned!