CASTLETON, Vt., Oct. 10 -- U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)delivered the following speech at College for All town hall at Casleton University in Vermont
I want to thank Castleton University for hosting this event, all of you who are here tonight and the many thousands of people on college campuses and at homes all across the country who are watching this via live stream.
I don't have to tell anyone that this country faces enormous problems - economically, politically, environmentally and socially.
Economically, over the last 40 years the middle-class of this country has been shrinking and we now have some 40 million people living in poverty. All across America we have people working two or three jobs just to put food on the table and pay the bills. Meanwhile, the gap between the very rich and everybody else is growing wider, and we have more income and wealth inequality than almost any other major country on earth.
Politically, we have a corrupt political system which, as a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, allows billionaires to spend hundreds of millions each year to buy elections for candidates who represent the rich and the powerful. We also have President Trump and Republican Governors working overtime to suppress the vote, to make it harder for people of color, poor people and young people to vote.
Environmentally, we face the global crisis of climate change. The planet is getting warmer and in the United States and all over theworld we face the threat of more drought, more floods, more acidification of the oceans, more rising sea levels and more extreme weather disturbances like what we have recently seen in Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida, the Virgin Islands and elsewhere. This is a monumental crisis.
Socially, as a result of President Trump's efforts to divide us up, we are seeing more overt displays of racism and anti-Semitism. We are seeing a rise in right-wing extremism, more religious bigotry against Muslims and other religious minorities and a very intentional effort to arouse hatred against undocumented immigrants - Latinos and others. We are also seeing the President try to turn back the clock on women's rights and the needs of the LGBT community.
I raise these issues because I don't believe we are going to solve any of these problems, and a lot more that I didn't discuss, unless we address the topic I want to speak to you about tonight: the need for the United States to have the best educated population in the world, the need to make public colleges and universities tuition free and the need to significantly lower the outrageous level of student debt that currently exists.
Today, as a result of rapidly rising college costs, stagnant or declining income for the middle class and major cutbacks in state and federal aid for higher education, hundreds of thousands of bright young Americans are unable to afford to go to college. These young people have the ability, they have the desire, but their families lack the money for a higher education. How tragic is that? Not only will these young people not be able to fulfill their personal dreams, but the overall economy suffers as well. How many great scientists, doctors, educators, businesspeople are not being created because these young people do not receive the education they want and need?
But this crisis impacts not only those people who are unable to afford to go to college, it impacts millions of Americans who have attended college and graduate school - and who leave school with outrageous levels of student debt, debt that they sometimes spend a lifetime paying off. Unbelievably, in America today there are 44 million Americans who owe more than $1.3 trillion in debt. This $1.3 trillion in student debt is now higher than either credit card debt or auto loan debt.
Now what does that debt mean to the individual - especially those people who are working at jobs that do not pay them decent wages? It means that after you pay off your student debt every month you might not be able to afford a car, or buy a house or have kids.
But here's what it also means that might be even more important. It means that millions of Americans may not be doing the jobs that they want to do, the jobs that they dreamed about doing, because of the burden of this student debt.
We have a major crisis in this country in terms of early childhood education. We desperately need excellent childcare workers to provide the emotional and intellectual sustenance that our young children need and to make sure they are prepared for school. But who can make childcare into a career, earning $14 an hour or less, and pay off a large student debt? It can't be done without great sacrifice.
What about someone graduating law school and wanting to go into public law - perhaps as a public defender, a legal aid lawyer, an immigration lawyer or an environmental lawyer? How do you do that on a salary of $40,000 a year?
We are in desperate need of primary care physicians in medically underserved areas throughout rural America and in our inner cities. How can you become a primary care doctor with a student debt of $300,000? It's possible, but it's not easy.