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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 2/27/18

Picture the United States Without Student Debt

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His wife Danielle adds:

"My husband has picked up a second job every holiday season and works about 60-70 hours per week for four months out of the year. Also, any time a one or two week project comes up with third party retailers he will take it throughout the year."

The rest of the article is a litany of self-denial: "We have a small town house with hand-me-down furniture. We haven't splurged on anything nice for the house... The nightstand next to my bed is the box from my Kitchen Aid mixer."

Then there's the roommate, "a good source of income each month."

Danielle adds, in words that might have been lifted from a 19th-century settlers' diary: "Things don't make a home; the people in it do."

Punishing the Young

Ben and Danielle acted responsibly, but is that really what we want for their generation? Once, society celebrated young people who pursued education. Today we celebrate their punishment -- especially when it's driven, penitente-style, from the depths of their own self-abnegating souls.

But latte-crazed students didn't create this problem. College education costs more in the United States than it does in any other country, by far, according to the OECD. About one-third of the 35 OECD countries charge no tuition for higher education. Another 10 charge less than $4,000 per year. And some of them help students pay their living expenses.

In the US, 70 percent of college graduates have some level of student debt. The average four-year graduate owes more than $37,000. People who were unable to complete their education, often for reasons beyond their control, owed an average of nearly $9,000. Once they graduate, they face a labor economy where under-employment remains widespread.

But, hey, hold the cappuccino!

We shouldn't fetishize student debt. These students played by the rules, and were caught in a trap that was not of their own making. We need to free them, and ourselves, from that trap.

Picture an End to Student Debt

Now let's go back to that picture in your mind of a student debt-free United States. Wages are stronger. Young people have more freedom to choose their careers based on the public interest, as well as their own education and inclination. They, and their families, have more to spend on homes and the necessities of life. (And yes, they can have a second cup of coffee.)

By this time, hopefully, the United States will have joined the most developed nations on earth in making tuition-free higher education available to everyone. That way, today's student debt crisis can never be repeated.

The act of cancelling student debt will benefit the entire economy. It will make us a stronger national community. And it will send a message to ourselves, from ourselves: We care about each other. We are not afraid to change. We are not afraid to set others free, and to share in the benefits of that freedom.

(For readers who want to know more about the report's findings, co-author Marshall Steinbaum and New York magazine's Eric Levitz offer valuable insights.)

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Host of 'The Breakdown,' Writer, and Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future

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