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The Inevitable Debt Trap For Youth

By James Donahue

We watched a recent and shocking televised report concerning the financial dilemma facing contemporary American youth.

Statistics show that those seeking college and a career are instantly crushed under massive debt from student loans, the high cost of buying or renting a home, purchasing a car, and just setting up to live and maintain a job.

High school graduates that forego additional career training may avoid the massive debt incurred through student loans, but their chances of acquiring a good paying and secure job in today's marketplace are so poor they can quickly find themselves just as mired in debt.

We are not just talking about a few thousand dollars in credit card debt. One woman just launching a career as a physical therapist, was portrayed as carrying a debt approaching about $200,000 from unpaid student loans, home, car and other costs of just getting started.

Debt like that can be overwhelming for people in moderate to low income levels. And that is where most workers in this country find themselves these days. When college graduates end up managing fast food restaurants or working as dental assistants, you know they are not high wage earners.

There has been a drastic change in America over the last half century. The big corporations have gotten larger and more politically powerful. The unions have been driven out of industry. Jobs have been outsourced to other countries where labor is cheap. All of this is threatening to shift the wealth to a very few, but at the same time, rot the fabric of our nation from the inside out.

When I was starting out in the late 1950s jobs were plentiful but we worked for as low as seventy-five cents an hour. But my first car, a three-year-old Chevrolet, was purchased from a used-car lot for $300. My first year of college cost me about $1,000 and I earned that working as a night watchman in a factory in my home town. I supplemented by college revenues washing dishes for a food commons earning about seven dollars a week.

What I found shocking was when my own children were graduating from high school and considering college, the cost of a year in college was skyrocketing. And a summer of labor to earn money to help pay for that year of school reaped about $1,000 if the worker was careful, could stay and home and drive his or her parent's car to and from work.

In other words, the pay for a summer's work was relatively lower in the 1970s and 1980s than it was when I was starting out, but college costs were so high that student loans and scholarships were almost mandatory for all but children from wealthy homes.

The gap has grown dramatically wider in the 30 years since then. What has happened is that fewer and fewer people are owning more and more of the wealth and the masses have become indentured servants to those few powerful owners.

Students of history understand what is happening here. It is an old story that has been played out over and over again. Because our failure to preserve the environment is now destroying our planet and creating a dynamic crisis, the inevitable next stage of this power play may not occur.

If this were the age of feudalism, when the poor masses worked as slaves of the rich and powerful landowners, we could expect a revolution, a take-over of power by the masses, and a shift of government to a socialistic system.

It may happen. If it occurs soon enough, we may yet have a chance to collectively slow down the destruction of our planet and buy enough time to develop a way of escaping the inevitable . . . our looming extinction.

Nov. 20, 2006