Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Killing our kids

Nothing, but nothing is more insane than the economic catastrophe that has been inflicted on the world's young people.  It is making it impossible for them to survive in any meaningful sense.  Not surprisingly, we are seeing suicide rates trending up in a demographic usually noted for their hopefulness.  Perhaps this is merely another example of "ignorance is bliss" because without significant economic change, they literally have no future.

9 July 2012

Today’s young people are being drafted into an economic war that they don’t understand.

My own generation faced the Vietnam War. We were at risk of getting drafted, and then maimed or killed in an unwinnable battle against imagined evils.

Today's young people are being drafted into an economic war that they don't understand. It's a slowly waged, diabolical war that substitutes debt and underemployment for missing limbs and psychological disorders. The soldiers are college-age men and women who can't find jobs or pay tuition, and who are seduced into submission by the promise of eventual rewards. The Vietnamese jungle has turned into Wall Street.

For those of us who weren't particularly good activists in the 60s, age has widened our perspective, and the lack of opportunities for our children has given us a second chance to protest, to help make it clear how the leaders of my generation have abandoned the people they no longer need.

Young America, here's why you should be angry:

1. The Great WEALTH Transfer

-- 18- to 35-year-olds: Your median net worth has dropped 68% since 1984. It's now less than $4,000.

-- The Richest 1%: They tripled their share of income between 1980 and 2006, then took 93% of all the new income in the first year after the 2008 recession. Their median net worth is now over $5,000,000.

2. The Lack of JOBS: No one's hiring, so you have to "create your own job."

This from Michael Barone of the Washington Examiner: "The good news is that information technology provides the iPod/Facebook generation with the means to find work and create careers that build on their own personal talents and interests...creating your own career will produce a stronger sense of satisfaction and fulfillment."

Sounds easy, doesn't it? Just grab your iPhone, open up Facebook, and create your own job. Become an entrepreneur, just like the richest Americans. Except that the richest Americans aren't entrepreneurs. Based on U.S. tax return data, only 3% of the wealthiest 130,000 Americans are entrepreneurs. Most are in management or finance.

As your parents and mentors, we told you to stay in school and work hard and everything would be fine. But you don't have jobs. Over half of college graduates were jobless or underemployed in 2011. More than 350,000 Americans with advanced degrees were receiving food stamps or some other form of public assistance.

If you do have a job, it's probably not paying much. Salaries for new graduates dropped 10% just in the last year. Worse yet, most of you are dealing with college loan debt, which averages $24,000, and with the reality of zero net worth for over a third of you.

As wages are hitting an all-time low, corporate profits are hitting an all-time high. But the corporations that have built their profits on American innovation and labor are telling you they don't need you anymore. Apple -- much admired for its slick products -- shows little respect for anyone below upper management. With 47,000 employees, about 1/10 the number employed by IBM, Apple makes a profit of $420,000 per employee. Yet most Apple store workers make about $12 per hour.

And your representatives in Washington are no help. In October, 2011 Senate Republicans killed a proposed $447 billion jobs bill that would have added about two million jobs to the economy. Nearly two-thirds of the American public had supported the bill.

3. The Portrayal of EDUCATION as a "lifetime investment"

Yes, it's a lifetime investment, for the holder of your student loans.

As corporate profits and CEO salaries and incomes of the 1% have surged over the past ten years, education financing declined by 24 percent, and tuition at state schools increased 72 percent. Since 1985, while consumer prices have approximately doubled, tuition has risen almost 600%.

Total state education cuts for fiscal 2012 were $12.7 billion. A study by Citizens for Tax Justice noted that 265 of our nation's largest companies avoided about the same amount in state taxes each year from 2008 to 2010.

So your massive tuition bills are paid for with mounting student debt, which has more than tripled in the past ten years. Here again my own generation has deceived you. Our once-idealistic anti-war activists now excel at flashy marketing and sloganeering, with admissions pitches of "affordability" and "lifetime investment," and carefully avoided references to costs and debts and contracts.

To make up for lost revenue, cutbacks continue and educational opportunities disappear. State colleges are eliminating expensive-to-run engineering and computer science departments. Arizona doubled college tuition in four years. California K-12 schools have one counselor for every 800 students. Ohio's Governor Kasich suggested rationing college majors among state schools. Illinois cut 2012 educational funding by a greater percentage than any other state; not to be outdone, Pennsylvania's Governor Corbett tried to cut higher education funding by half, and New Hampshire DID cut university funding by half. Florida's college tuition is up 15% in a year, Nevada's is up 13%, Tennessee's about 10%, Washington's 24% over two years. more
The war in our children is beginning to take more casualties.  This is SO ugly.
C. Cryn Johannsen  07/02/2012
Advocate for the Indentured Educated Servant

The Ones We've Lost: The Student Loan Debt Suicides

This story was produced by the independent Economic Hardship Reporting Project, co-edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Gary Rivlin.

One evening in 2007, Jan Yoder of Normal, Illinois noticed that her son Jason seemed more despondent than usual. Yoder had been a graduate student in organic chemistry at Illinois State University but after incurring $100,000 in student loan debt, he struggled to find a job in his field. Later that night, Jason, 35, left the family's mobile home. Concerned about her son's mood, Jan Yoder decided in the early morning hours to go look for him on campus, where a professor she ran into joined her in the search. The two of them discovered his body in one of the labs on campus and called campus police at 8:30AM. 32 minutes later, Jason was declared dead due to nitrogen asphyxiation.

When the story was posted on several different sites in 2007 and 2008, the Internet chatter was not always kind to the dead man. While many expressed great sympathy for Yoder and ranted against the student lending system, others were quick to invoke the "personal responsibility" argument -- "it was his fault;" "why did he take out that amount of loans?;" "Mr. Yoder took out those loans . . . he had an obligation to pay them back." -- and denigrate him.

His mother, of course, saw it differently. While she was preparing for Jason's funeral, student debt collectors were still phoning her about the money her son owed. As reporter David Newbart wrote in a 2007 article for Chicago Sun Times, she was gruff when confronted by these calls. "You are part of the reason he took his own life," she told them and then hung up the phone.

Suicide is the dark side of the student lending crisis and, despite all the media attention to the issue of student loans, it's been severely under-reported. I can't ignore it though, because I'm an advocate for people who are struggling to pay their student loans, and I've been receiving suicidal comments for over two years and occasionally hearing reports of actual suicides. More people are being forced into untenable financial circumstances as outstanding student loan debt has surpassed $1 trillion. And people simply aren't able to pay all the money they owe. In the past few years, the rate of defaults for federal loans has increased at an alarming rate. According to the Department of Education, those recent graduates who began repayments in 2009, 8.8 percent had already defaulted on their federal loans. That compares to 7 percent in 2008. Currently, 36 million Americans have outstanding federal loans. I can't help but wonder how many of those millions are feeling distressed or suicidal, or how many have attempted suicide because of all that debt hanging over their heads.

I first started appreciating the depth of the problem of suicidal debtors a few years ago, with a post on my blog, All Education Matters, entitled, "Suicide Among Student Debtors: Who's Thought About It?" I was stunned by the responses. In comment after comment, people confessed to feeling suicidal. One person wrote, "I was very actively looking into suicide until I got on anti-depressants. Now I have to take happy pills every day to keep the suicidal urges at a minimum level. You are correct to ask the question. Many of the folks who are incredibly deep in law school debt will end up killing themselves. I think, in the next 1-3 years, we are going to see absolutely massive numbers of law school graduate suicides." Said another: "Yes, I thought about suicide a lot over the past few years. I take anti-depressants and I had been smoking cigarettes for months but I did end up quitting. The big issue with that is I want to be an opera singer so [smoking] was my way of giving up. I'm trying to do what I can to get through this... and praying for an answer." more


  1. This is yet another classic bankster bubble that will have to burst due to its own unstopped greed.

    According to, 2011 United States Gross National Income in PPP dollars was $15.23 Trillion PPP dollars, current prices - Source: World Bank

    So banksters have captured an amount equal to 1/15th of all USA annual income BEFORE IT CAN EVEN BE EARNED.

    At least income taxes are not pledged to the gov't in advance of it being earned. Students really have been screwed here.

    But I wish the pundits would stop framing arguments as a Boomer versus Gen X-Y-Z battle--this is just as much a problem for Boomers who go back to school.

    This is a systemic bank/education institutional problem, whereby they are taking advantage to the edge of greed of any person who is in need their financial/educational services.

    There are many adults, who due to shifting career/occupations as they get 15+ years into the workforce, are forced to seek additional education; and the financial/educational services are more than happy to strip older folks of income before they earn it too.

  2. Thanks Mike

    As someone who once got into significant trouble by advising my department head's daughter, who trying to get into some fancy schools, that there was "literally nothing a 19 year old can possibly learn that is worth going into debt," I have been thinking long and hard how the economically disadvantaged can learn the important stuff and gain credentials for their efforts. The exchange in "Good Will Hunting" was particularly relevant to this discussion. Will suggests that the arrogant twerp would some day wake up to the fact that he had "blown $150,000 on an education he could have gotten at the public library for $1.50 in late fees." Of course, Harvard boy's response "yeah but I'll be in the drive-through on my ski trip to Vermont and you'll be working there" was also correct. There should be a way around this problem. Because whatever value there is an education, it is not worth becoming a debt peon. This is especially true of those subjects like Chaucer that are only Leisure Class hobbies that can be learned at any stage in life by reading a few good books.

    Now that virtually everything worth knowing can be found quite easily online—usually for free, the need for expensive schools that offer little more than instructions in status emulation has pretty much disappeared. What we need is certainly not more student debt, we need a free credentialing system that actually rewards those who learn actually learn something.

    Of course, what we really need is more good jobs.

  3. College degress are false idols, they only show how malleable students are and create a bureaucratic workforce. The sassy VT ski trip guy from Good Will Hunting would be some corporate middle manager hoping against hope to make partner.

    For every partner, there are 20 college degreed guys destined now for unemployment at 50 and tapping there 401k plan early to survive until a retirement age that may never come given our USA health care.

    Most of the real inventions of consequence have come from college dropouts--Zuckerberg and Gates for example--and both actually were smart enough to steal someone else's concepts and mold them into the 'invention.'

    We are entering an incredible tipping point--virtually every institution of mankind (religious, governmental, educational, corporate, etc.) has lost its way and allowed itself to become so lost as to misplace its core human values.

    Even having lived through this corruption era and into this time, I could not have imagined this possible, and I must admit that I dismissed most of the cries of the visionaries who confronted these institutions to try to correct the errors of their ways.

    All those events that now in hindsight should have been beacons pointing out the corruption but were not due to the able coverups and wishful thinking denialism...even now into this time where it just seems incredible that people still do not get it. Headshaking.

    And yet now I too do hope that the younger generation will step up, because they literally have nothing to lose. That they educate themselves, and live outside of the contrived mortgage/real estate, and create alternative institutions that undermine the corrupted ones simply by avoiding the special interests until they clean themselves up.

    And develop alternative energy that undermines big oil and big coal, that when the predictable contrived war is begun that they ignore the call to war. But then, I wonder is it too much to dream for.