A perfect storm of unemployment, lack of opportunity and debt is creating the newest economic crisis ready to greet the class of 2012 as they graduate, and there are no easy fixes.
According to a study conducted for The Associated Press, 53.6 percent of young adults age 25 or younger with bachelor’s degrees find themselves without a job or underemployed, working low-wage jobs that only require a high school degree or less and do not take advantage of their skills.
Jobs graduates would normally take are no longer there as older, more experienced workers take those jobs in the wake of the recession.
On top of that, most studies show as much as 95 percent of job growth coming from the top and bottom of the wage scale, with middle-income jobs normally reserved for those with bachelor’s degrees disappearing because of new technological breakthroughs.
This compounds the problem of high student loan debt. Graduates out of work or struggling to get by find themselves increasingly unable to pay back their loans to the government or private institutions.
Student loan debt has grown rapidly over time. Total debt now has reached $870 billion, exceeding credit card debt and auto loans, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
According to a 2011 report by the Project on Student Debt, students in the class of 2010 owe an average of $25,250 in student loan debt. Central Michigan University graduates from that same year owe an average of $28,142, with 74 percent of students graduating with debt, well above the state averages.
Most student loan debt, according to a 2011 report by the College Board, is owed to the federal government. As federal aid has expanded, nonfederal loans (which usually have less favorable interest rates) comprised only 7 percent of education-related borrowing in 2010-11, down from roughly 25 percent just a few years earlier.
“The private student loan market has consolidated in recent years, with a number of smaller lenders leaving the business and some larger lenders selling their loans to others,” the College Board said in its report.
This presents an urgent issue for federal lawmakers on Capitol Hill to address. On July 1, interest rates on federally-subsidized loans are set to jump from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent unless action is taken.
Leaders in both parties are looking to keep interest rates from going up. President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney have both called on Congress to keep rates where they are.
“We cannot let America become a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of people struggle to get by,” Obama said on Saturday in his weekly address, speaking on student loan debt.
Other lawmakers are looking to go a step further.
Rep. Hansen Clarke, D-Mich., introduced the Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012 in March. The bill would forgive outstanding student loan debt for students who have made payments equal to 10 percent of their income for 10 years.
“This bill provides student loan borrowers with a second chance, those who have been struggling financially,” Clarke said in a news release. “By cutting this debt, this frees up their money to invest on their own. That will create new jobs throughout this country.”
The bill has yet to come up for a vote.