A Vicious Circle …

I discovered something tonight that I did not know.  There are 20 states in which, if you default on your student loan payments, the state can and will suspend your professional and/or drivers’ licenses until you catch up the payments.

Now, think about this one.  You owe a huge student loan, for college is anything but cheap, and scholarships not easy to come by.  But, you value education, want to be able to provide well for your family, so you go to college for 4 years, 6 years, or more, and you come out a teacher, nurse, lawyer or accountant.  You get a job, you’re doing well enough, though salaries are not keeping up with inflation, so you haven’t as much of a cushion as you’d like.  And then BOOM … something happens.  Perhaps you lose your job, or perhaps you become ill and are temporarily unable to work.  The first priorities?  Food and shelter, utilities, car payments, medical care for yourself and your family.  Lowest on the priority list?  Entertainment, unnecessary car trips, and student loan payments. You finally find another job, or resolve your medical issues, and … WAIT … you cannot be hired, for your license has been suspended by the state due to being in default on your student loans.  Your license will be reinstated when you catch up those loan payments … with additional interest, of course.  But how can you do that without a job?  Makes about as much sense as … nothing, right?

What’s even worse, is South Dakota and Iowa, where they can and will suspend your driver’s license for defaulting on your student loan!  You cannot even legally get to an interview, and if you managed that, you would not be able to drive to work!

Shannon Otto, of Nashville, Tennessee could tell you a bit about it. After years of school and thousands of dollars of loans, she eventually landed her dream job as a nurse, in Tennessee, a state facing a shortage of nurses. Then, after working for more than a decade, she started having epileptic seizures. They arrived without warning, in terrifying gusts. She couldn’t care for herself, let alone anyone else. Unable to work, she defaulted on her student loans. Ms. Otto eventually got her seizures under control, and prepared to go back to work and resume payments on her debt. But Tennessee’s Board of Nursing suspended her license after she defaulted. To get the license back she would have to pay more than $1,500. She couldn’t.

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The average student leaves college with about $37,000 in student loan debt. The monthly payment on a $37,000 student loan is approximately $351. And that assumes the student went to a public university rather than a for-profit, private school. Those who have been working for most of their lives don’t think much of a $351 payment, but for a young person just starting out in an entry-level position, that can be a lot of money.  I was very lucky to come through my first four years of college with zero debt, due to Pell Grants, scholarships, and working 2, sometimes 3 jobs at a time throughout those four years, but not everybody is as lucky … most aren’t, in fact. My daughter, who has two nursing degrees and a degree in computer programming currently has more than $109,000 in student loans, which have been in deferment, but we will resume payments on in January. As she said to me today, she expects to be paying on her loans until the day she dies.

Student loan payments are now the largest source of household debt outside of mortgages. Until recently, the state and federal recourse for defaulters has included lawsuits, property liens, wage attachments, and seizing tax refunds.  The tactic of suspending licenses is far more crippling, and plunges the debtor into a vicious circle from which he/she may not be able to exit.

Proponents of the move say that it is unfair for taxpayers to have to foot the bill for unpaid loans, and they rationalize that the defaulter will ‘find a way’ to pay their default in order to get their license back.  Don’t you just love it when those who have never been in a situation sit back and say that those going through it will ‘find a way’?  But critics on both sides of the partisan aisle argue that it is wrong.  Daniel Zolnikov, a Republican state representative in Montana says, “It’s like shooting yourself in the foot, to take away the only way for these people to get back on track.” In 2015, Mr. Zolnikov co-sponsored a bill with Representative Moffie Funk, a Democrat, that stopped Montana from revoking licenses for people with unpaid student debt — a rare instance of bipartisanship.

Tabitha McArdle earned $48,000 when she started out as a teacher in Houston. A single mother, she couldn’t keep up with her monthly $800 student loan payments. In March, the Texas Education Agency put her on a list of 390 teachers whose certifications cannot be renewed until they make steady payments. She now has no license.

States that withhold professional and or drivers’ licences for default of student loans include: Alaska, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.

Does anybody imagine that, with Betsy DeVos, one of the elite 1%, serving as head of the Department of Education, more states won’t be encouraged to follow this path?  This can only keep some of those who would be the best and brightest from pursuing a college education.  We, as a nation, have already fallen behind in education rankings worldwide.  According to a Pew Research study earlier this year, “Recently released data from international math and science assessments indicate that U.S. students continue to rank around the middle of the pack, and behind many other advanced industrial nations.” 

Pew

Bernie Sanders ran for president last year on a democratic-socialist platform that included free college and health care for all. While it sounded great, it would not have been sustainable.  I do not propose free college for all, but today, college in the U.S. is outrageously out of reach for the average high school graduate, and likely to become even more so in the coming years.  Like so many other things in this nation today, the benefit is weighted heavily toward that top 1% that we keep hearing about.  More and more, students are opting for trade or vocational schools.  So, I ask you, who will be the doctors, lawyers, educators and government representatives a generation from now?

We hear of the ‘dumbing down’ of America.  Perhaps it is not such a far-fetched concept after all.

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35 thoughts on “A Vicious Circle …

  1. “Bernie Sanders ran for president last year on a democratic-socialist platform that included free college and health care for all. While it sounded great, it would not have been sustainable.” I disagree with this statement, Jill. As long as money is being spent according to current priorities, it would be impossible. If a nation believes that health care and a post-secondary education is a right of citizenship, the money can be found – closing tax loopholes and jacking up taxes on the 1% would be a good start!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, you would be quite right, except for one thing. The majority … or perhaps it is only a large and very vocal minority, but a wealthy one … do not believe that health care and education should be a right of citizenship. That is one of the major disputes between right and left down here, and the wealthy on the right, the side that controls both the executive and legislative branches of government at the moment, believe that people who cannot afford it must be lazy and therefore do not deserve it. Thus, we have a tax bill in Congress at the moment that will cut taxes for the wealthy, increase them for many who are not wealthy, and increase the national debt astronomically. We have a Secretary of Education who will take funding away from public schools that serve the many and use it to establish ‘charter schools’ that serve very few. And we have a Secretary of Health and Human Services that supports repealing ACA, the Affordable Care Act, when such repeal would leave some 20 million citizens without health insurance and unable to afford it. That was my basis for the statement … Bernie would have had a very steep uphill battle to get his proposals through Congress, for the wealthy do not wish to pay taxes. Period.

      Liked by 1 person

      • So true and I understand your frustration with that reality. We have the same debates here in Canada. The Conservatives have often suggested establishing a U.S. model of health care and eliminating our universal health care system, but public outcry forced them to abandon any such notions. Here in Ontario we have a subsidized fee system for Canadian citizens – and all of our universities are public – we don’t have the two-tiered public/private system here. Our colleges are community colleges designed to give practical post-secondary training for students who are not capable of degree work. They are public schools too. Our students still face student loan debt like their American counterparts. According to international educational ratings that I’ve seen, our system is in much better shape than yours – and your explanations showed us why.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I had no idea that there was ever consideration in Canada to model your health care system after ours! That would be a terrible idea! I’m glad, at least, that they listened to the public outcry, for here, our voices seem to mostly go unnoticed or ignored. What I have discovered in the past year is what I should have known all along … if something makes no sense, follow the money, for at the end of the day, it all boils down to one thing … greed. It is truly an understatement to refer to disparity in income distribution in this country, and Trump, while paying lip service to the undereducated and the non-thinkers, has done nothing but widen the gap between the 1% and the rest of us. They refuse to raise minimum wage, take away health care, destroy the environment to enhance coal & oil baron’s profits, and the list goes on. Every single thing he has done has been to the benefit of the wealthy and the detriment of the rest of us. And nobody seems to hear our outcries. I keep reminding myself that this, too, shall pass …

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Education like everything else has become a business and thuose running the show are not concerned about brainpower but purely about wallet power. So the floodgates are open to those who may not have the ability, to increase intake and pay for the privilege. Already essays and even complex theses can be purchased on line just as dangerous drugs can. Those who cannot pay must borrow and end up with unmanageable debt. A recent outrage blew up in the UK when it was discovered some university chancellor’s were earning in excess of £300,000 and paying themselves massive increases. At present the business model has not reached school aged pupils but it will and the private sector will run everything with an eye on how much money can be made. The principle is a simple one , dangle a carrot and make people pay as much as you can squeeze out of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Quite true, and over here, the concept is already beginning to reach the elementary and high school levels, as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposes to de-fund public schools that service many, and use the money for “charter” schools that will benefit only a few.

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  3. As I did in in 1960’s I question the whole relevance of college/university qualifications. Yet, that is the world we now live in. Where if after the length of time spent in the institution and you answer the exam questions correctly and written a treatise on something relevant to the subject. You are branded with the right logo and sent out to pursue your goals. How many have I worked with, that were working in a job other than what trained for? How was that useful? Well, it tells prospective employers you have the ability to retain facts of some sort. That you can work under pressure, of whatever pressure colleges place upon their students, etc. Then once you have passed those exams and written the treatise you can look for a job in a redundant industry? I qualified as a machinist. Where are all the machine shops now? Run by robots? The law and authority is an ass … Cheers Jamie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah yes, but see, I’m not defining a college education in quite the same way as you. I see it as more than the acquisition of facts and figures, but also as the process of being exposed to a wide variety of concepts and actually learning to think for oneself, to understand how the world works, how one thing relates to another. And that is what is lacking already today, so I ask again … if we take that away, who leads the way in politics, technology and industry in the future? The 1% who think the most important thing is money … theirs!
      Cheers!!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • True enough and that is also valid. Yet, education and the other experiences can be found as we age, in many other areas. Attending college, means the attendee is assumed to want a batter job, through qualifications. So that runs contrary to your point, it seems? Anyway, there is little value in money per se. The real wealth is assets like land, raw materials and knowledge. College education is judged by how much facts and figures can be retained. Otherwise, out you go. Not much point to an education if the standards are not being met?That’s how it runs and what we pay for. I am now retired According to some, I’m just a useless eater. now? Cheers Jamie

        Liked by 1 person

        • You are so right that we can learn, as we age, from many sources, including life’s experiences. And with the internet, there is simply no excuse for people not to educate themselves. BUT … too many don’t. I see this every day in conversations with people who have no clue how our government functions, yet do not hesitate to expound on their idea of how they THINK things work. Sigh. Sometimes I feel it is a losing battle, but one that my stubborn self refuses to concede.

          I, too, am a ‘useless eater’, in the eyes of some. I am so tired of hearing Social Security referred to as an ‘entitlement program’, when I paid into it from the time I was 13 years old!

          Cheers!!!

          Liked by 1 person

  4. There is this mentality which seizes governments, blinds them to their own foolishness which they then shift onto the hapless individual.
    There was a joke which used to do the rounds in Russia in the 1970s when it was the USSR.
    Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev (remember him ?) are all seated in a railway carriage. The train lurches to halt, after a hour of nothing happening Stalin gets up and say’ I’ll sort this out’ and storms off to confront the engine driver and his assistant.
    ‘What is the problem comrades?’ he demands
    ‘Comrade Stalin’, says the engineer ‘The engine has developed a fault and we do not have the spare part,’
    ‘Nonsense!’ retorts Stalin ‘This cannot happen in the Soviet Union. You are obvious saboteurs in the pay of the Western Capitalists,’ and he takes out a revolvers to shoot them both,’ then storms back to sit down.
    After another hour Khrushchev gets up and says ‘I’ll sort this out’ and walks out.
    On finding the bodies he demands of a nearby passenger what happened, trembling the man explains.
    ‘Ah,’ says Khrushchev addressing the bodies ‘You have obviously both been victims of Comrade Stalin’s injustice ‘The State rehabilitates you both,’ he then goes back to the carriage and sits down.
    After another hour Brezhnev looks at the other two and with a bright smile on his face says.
    ‘I know what to do! Let’s roll down the blinds on the windows and pretend the train is moving!’

    Liked by 1 person

  5. For a few short years during the early 70’s, university education in Australia was free, and I was one of the lucky ones that benefited from it.
    Free higher education is possible in the same way that free primary and secondary education is possible because we all now assume that it’s a necessity. It wasn’t a necessity 100 years ago. Times change and so do budget allocations. The cost of free higher education could be absorbed by not giving handouts to corporations and millionaires. It’s just a question of priorities.
    My government has it’s priorities up its….Kyber Pass as well, and so do most other Western governments. They’ve conveniently forgotten what drove the growth of their industries and made them ‘great’ in the first place. 😦

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Taxes are supposed to support public education so that citizens will be smart enough to make intelligent political decisions and also so that after school they can join the work force and help pay taxes themselves — to help others. To penalize the young who default on student loans because they have come on hard times flies in the face of this logic: they should be helped back into the work force so they can then help other students in the future through their own taxes — and participate meaningfully in the political process. (Please note that both Sough Dakota and Iowa are “Red” states…..but you knew that!)

    Liked by 2 people

    • You know I agree with you! I liked Bernie Sanders for that reason, though I knew his ideas would never fly here at this time, and in the current political climate, so I could foresee only stalemate had he won the democratic nomination. In retrospect, I wish he had won, for I think he could have beaten the current idiot-in-chief. But I digress … back to the point, there are six countries that offer free tuition: Norway, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Slovenia, and France. Which proves the point that it can be done. Will it ever be here? If so, it will be long after you and I are gone, I believe, for so many in this nation are living in a ‘me-istic’ world … a world where they are willing to turn a blind eye to the suffering of others if it enables them to enhance their own lives. But I am a cynic, so what do I know. My fear is that we are setting up a society where only the top 1% are educated and qualified to fill top positions in business, industry and government. Where does that leave the other 99%?

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Actually, the UK is not far behind the US on this one. Most of (not all) the former Western society nations are now far below those of the emerging nations in many areas… It is a sign that society is changing. The costs of education are ridiculous…what on earth has gone wrong in the way we govern our societies?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Without trying to sound like a conspiracy theorist, I sometimes wonder if the goal might actually be to keep us “peons” less educated, and preserve higher education for that wealthy class, the 1%, in order to ensure that they are the ones leading both industry and government in the future? Just a thought. But that said, there are several countries, mostly Scandinavian countries, that have completely state-funded college education. I doubt my country or yours will ever go that far, but there must surely be some middle ground?

      Liked by 1 person

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