What All Millennials Wish Millennials Would Stop Writing About Millennials

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This is probably a critical flaw in my character for which I will no doubt be a long while in Purgatory, but I get no end of delight in fisking poorly reasoned articles. That delight is exponentially increased in direct proportion to the level of obliviousness exhibited in the writing.

I received an unexpected Christmas gift in the form of this article: What Every Millennial Wishes You Understood About Student Loan Debt.

(Original in quotes)

I am so fed up right now I could scream.

The amusing thing is that the author is going to make her best attempt to convince you that millennials aren’t a pain in the ass and that people should stop bitching about them being a pain in the ass, but also chooses to begin this article in this manner.

I know I’m already convinced…

I turned on the news (as I do every evening) and was greeted with the information about how the Feds are raising interest rates. That isn’t what bothered me so much, as it was the bitching by several pundits about how millennials don’t want to invest in purchasing large ticket items, like a home or vehicle.

It was like someone had thrown down the gauntlet. I am so sick of being told how our generation is such a pain in the ass.

Now, I’d be inclined to agree that the bitching of pundits is an annoying thing, albeit not something that elicits an emotional reaction from me since I consider bitching of any form to indicate a lack of rational argument. However, one might also reasonably ask a couple questions:

1. Is noting that millennials potentially are not investing in large ticket items necessarily indicative of “bitching,” or is this description perhaps more indicative of the author’s emotional reaction to this information (irrespective of its veracity)?

2. Why would information being disseminated be the equivalent of throwing down a gauntlet, and even more so why would it be necessarily indicative of telling one that one’s generation is a “pain in the ass?”

Having not seen the segment in question I can’t comment on the bitching, but it seems that if one doesn’t want to be perceived as a pain in the ass, one might start by leading with one’s reason instead of one’s emotions.

You know what’s really a pain in the ass? Practically owing my first born (and their first born) to Sallie Mae for my student loans.

Hyperbole doesn’t really help one’s case either, although the pain from student loans is certainly real. It actually is somewhat refreshing that the author acknowledges that they are her student loans.

Bets on how long this acceptance of responsibility lasts?

So here, let me provide you with the top five things that all millennials wish you understood about their student loan debt. And then maybe you could take several seats.

I’m not sure what is intended by taking “several seats,” but the over-generalization employed here is quite a bit overwrought. “All” millennials want you to understand exactly these things? And “all” millennials have student loan debt (ie., “their student loan debt)?

What is fascinating here is the sheer obliviousness of the, ahem, argument. Just two sentences prior the author complains about her entire generation being lumped together as collectively being a “pain in the ass,” but then makes precisely the same sort of generalization of millennials.

Speaking only for myself, I am on the cusp of being a millennial (being born in 1980, and the determining age ranges vary), yet I do not necessarily wish everyone understood these things, nor do I wish they understood it about my student loan debt, since I don’t have any.

Student Loan Debt Fact #1 – Newsflash: This Sucks For Us

The first thing I would like to dispel is that we all just went joyfully, hand in hand to Sallie Mae, and took on the student loans, and are just thrilled to pieces about it.

I’m not sure that there are many who actually think in terms of this caricature, and thus one might be led to conclude that the author is simply erecting straw men to knock over.

If I were to state a conception of millennials that I have actually seen and heard in various places, it would be that the loans were taken out in the midst of either ignorance about what they entailed or apathy about paying them back. I don’t think this conception is completely accurate and certainly cannot be applied to all millennials, but it at least somewhat touches on reality.

You mean I got an education that I now can’t use in today’s job market, and I will be paying it back for the rest of my life?!

Note to the author- if you are going to use sarcasm, at least make it convincing. After all, simply having student loans doesn’t mean one has actually received an education (or even graduated), nor does it entail that the education received would have ever been useful in any job market.

You all do realize that even when you declare bankruptcy, you cannot discharge your student loans. That’s right. It is the ONLY LOAN that doesn’t go away in bankruptcy.

This would also probably be a good thing to know before deciding to take out large amounts of non-dischargeable debt.

There are only four main ways to discharge your student loan debt:

(1) Pay it off

(2) Pay on it for 25 years consistently then have it forgiven

(3) Work for peanuts for 10 years and have it forgiven

(4) Die

Actually, there is a main fifth way: permanent disability, and it is one of the reasons you shouldn’t roll student loan debt into a mortgage.

In case that didn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, let’s continue with the truth bombs . . .

The snark is strong with this one!

Student Loan Debt Fact #2 – No, We Can’t Work A Job And Pay It Off While In School

Every time I bring up student loan debt, I hear about how someone, back in the 70’s, was able to go to school and work to pay for their schooling. Well, isn’t that just peachy.

And the author wonders why millennials might be considered a pain in the ass… Just kidding!

Guess what?

What?

Do you know how much tuition has risen since you were in school? Try 1,120 percent. No, that’s not a misprint. That’s not 120 percent. That is one thousand, one hundred, and twenty percent. And before you tell me that the cost of everything else has gone up as well in that same time, I would like to note that the cost of food has only risen 244 percent.

The difficulty with this number is that it is not necessarily taking into account the net price of tuition once financial aid and tax benefits are figured into the mix. For example, from 1995-2015 the published tuition rate at a four year public university increased from just under $5,000 a year to just under $10,000 (in 2015 dollars). However, the net price of tuition and fees over the same period entailed an increase of an average of $2300 in 1995 to just under $4,000 in 2015. If room and board is factored in, the numbers change form around $9500 in 1995 to around $14,000 in 2015. (trends.collegeboard.org)

However, all that aside, the author’s point seems to be somewhat self-defeating. If it is being noted that school tuition is far out-pacing not only inflation but also the costs of other goods and services as well as earnings (which by all accounts it seems to), then would that not lead one to more seriously question the value of a particular degree program at a particular university in respect to amount of risk that represents?

Yes, when a private institution cost only a couple thousand dollars a year, you could absolutely work to pay it off. I worked both while in school, and two jobs on summer breaks, and that wouldn’t have touched the $44,000 a year private tuition cost for my degree.

And now we come to a crucial bit of information here, which is that the author’s choice in school (a private university) may have been a substantial part of the amount of indebtedness. To be sure, making $44,000 a year to pay for school while in school is not easy, but an option (which doesn’t seem to even have been on the table) might have been to forego school (or perhaps choose a different school) until one had the money. Granted, having to wait is a sacrifice of sorts, but the author has already mentioned in point #1 that being in student loan debt sucks, so the question is whether waiting until one has the money sucks more than being deeply in student loan debt.

Which brings me to my third point . . .

I’m still trying to figure out what the second point is, and I mean that in all seriousness. After all, student loan inflation is a fact of life right now, and the cost-to-return ratio is more important than ever to consider. If one takes into account the truth bomb that student loan debt is non-bankruptable and that in respect to all other items one buys it is over-inflated then this becomes a serious question. One cannot help but wonder where this is going; if she wasn’t able to pay for her private school tuition even with working yet still decided to borrow as much as she did, and if she didn’t go into wide-eyed and bushy tailed and knew student loan sucked because of the gotchas, then what exactly is the complaint?

Student Loan Debt Fact #3 – Shut It With The Lazy Shit

I swear, if one more person calls my generation lazy, I am going to kick them (not really, but still).

Again, it’s truly a wonder that this self-proclaimed spokesperson for millennials wonders why people think millennials are a pain in the ass… just kidding again!

Almost every millennial I know works their ass off. I myself have at times have worked FOUR jobs to make ends meet. But real wages haven’t increased at anywhere near the same rate as the costs of everyday items. And while those costs affect you too, you are not burdened by an extra $200-$1000 in monthly payments to pay off your student loans.

I will actually agree with the author here that many millennials do work exceptionally hard, and I too think the notion that millennials are lazy is somewhat overwrought, as every generation has its share of laziness. I will note, however, that the author is actually indirectly getting at why choosing to go into debt for education is a very bad idea, which I briefly mentioned earlier.

She notes that wages haven’t increased at the same rate as the cost of everyday items, and certainly not the cost of tuition. However, if this is the case, it means that the ROI for attending a university for an education is potentially lessened from the get-go, and even more so the further one indebts oneself. Indeed, she goes on to explain:

And while those costs affect you too, you are not burdened by an extra $200-$1000 in monthly payments to pay off your student loans.

It is precisely for this reason (among others) that student loan debt (and debt in general) is such a bad idea. The irony of these truth bombs, of course, is that she presumably knew them yet still decided to heavily indebt herself.

So before you go throwing around the lazy card, why don’t we look at YOUR debt that you are paying off? Is it from credit cards for frivolous items? Or a car loan? Or is it from trying to finance your education? Because I am pretty sure it’s one of the first two. How about those without loan debt cast the first stone, eh?

While I’ll agree about casting the first stone, it is worth noting that there is a logical error in play here. The critique of laziness (to the extent that it has veracity or not) is not necessarily related to indebtedness or lack thereof. One can be incredibly hard-working and have lots of debt or have no debt, or incredibly lazy and have lots of debt and no-debt. Thus, this attempt at a turn-around seems a bit more like poop-flinging, especially since again she misses the irony of decrying a generalization about an entire generation and then only a few sentences later engages in exactly the same behavior.

There is also another fallacy, in that debt for education is somehow more noble debt than for cars or frivolous items.

Student Loan Debt Fact #4 – We Actually Do Want To Pay It Off

That’s another comment I hear all the time, “Oh, you just wanted to get the education, and now you want the cost of it forgiven” or “That’s why you kids like Bernie Sanders, because you just want everything for free.”

The second part is somewhat of another straw man, but the first critique isn’t necessarily all that far off, and the author will essentially all but admit this in due course. However, I have written elsewhere about millennials who advocate precisely for this, although often couched in more self-aggrandizing language.

And while, yes, getting things for free would be super awesome, we are not delusional. We don’t want everything for free. Nor do we honestly think that our debt will somehow just magically disappear. However, we can never refinance our loans, which, mind you, are at 8 percent interest, unlike your mortgages.

Let’s take this at face value. If all of these sentiments are true, then what exactly is the author’s complaint in respect to her own debt? If she doesn’t want everything for free, doesn’t think debt will magically disappear and knew she couldn’t refinance it, then why make the decision she did to heavily indebt herself to finance her education?

It might also be worth noting that the people in the 70’s who were able to pay for college while working (for whom that was evidently “just peachy”) also often had mortgages north (and even well north) of 8%.

Also, we would be THRILLED to pay it off, but that will literally never happen when all we can pay is the interest on it, and never even touch the principal. I personally owe $253,000 for my law school student loan debt alone (I got a full-tuition scholarship to undergrad).

Which do you think is more likely, that I will actually find a job where I can pay that back? Or that I will continue paying on it for the next 25 years, and the government will just have to make a wash of the rest of it?

I think this is where the big disconnect in the argument comes in. After all, if she is rhetorically asking if anyone thinks it’s likely that she’ll find a job where she can make enough to pay it back, then one might ask if this calculation was part of the decision to take out the loans for this particular degree. If she didn’t think it was likely she would pay it back, what was the plan in the first place?

There’s also a false choice here, in that it’s not only a choice between finding a job or having the government make a wash of it (which would actually be a regressive penalty in taxes on her since the government can only make a “wash” of things increasing revenues in the form of raising taxes). Another option would be to start her own thing, either on the side or in conjunction with a job. And if she has a law degree, finding a job where she can pay that back isn’t absolutely out of the question, since she could potentially be in a profession to make that kind of money.

As a final note: one of the saddest aspects of this entire situation is that it seems the author has been utterly deprived of hope as a result of the decisions she has made. After all, she is asking if anyone thinks it’s likely she’ll ever get a job that makes enough to pay this back, which seems to indicate that in her own mind she has already given up on this. This is unfortunate, since her education may very likely give her the tools to make this sort of income and thus get out of this mess. My hope is that she does, but first it would seem she needs to start believing she actually can, rather than worrying about how others perceive her.

Student Loan Debt Fact #5 – We Honestly Didn’t Feel Like We Had A Choice

Of course, many may read this and think – well, you always have a choice! But we as a generation felt like we had to go to college, if not get some additional degree past that.

And here is a where we finally get to the rub of the matter. I’ve written several times before on this argument, and while I accept that there are powerful cultural forces at work in this respect, the bottom line is that we are all still responsible for our choices, even if they put us into situations where we feel like we are stuck.

In many respects this argument rings somewhat hollow following all that has come before. After all, the author drops the truth bombs about how student loan debt is not able to be discharged in bankruptcy, how it creates a sucky situation where one’s options are limited, that it has a lessened ROI in relation to post-graduation, especially when one has student loan debt. She also admits that she thinks her decision had little chance of paying off (or, more accurately, to be paid off!). And she even managed to get through undergrad without student loans, yet in the face of all this still made the decision to heavily indebt herself so as to finance her graduate work at a private university that she admittedly couldn’t afford.

I don’t bring up all these things to pile on, but rather to highlight the absolute necessity of making wise decisions in contrast to this one, especially when it involves potentially indebting oneself to this extent. I have a great deal of sympathy for the author, as many of her options are now limited because of prior poor decisions. However, that doesn’t obviate her responsibility for her choices or necessarily mitigate the consequences of them simply because they suck.

That is likely because, like me, they graduated into the worst economic crash since the Great Depression. If all you Boomers were getting laid off, do you really think people were going to hire us newbs? Of course not. So we had to do something, and many of us went on to get another degree in hopes that the economy would turn around.

This reasoning simply doesn’t make sense, since earlier she rhetorically asked if it was likely she’d ever find a job with which to pay off the amount of these loans. After all, $253,000 is a lot of debt no matter how great the economy is. If she didn’t think it likely that she could pay off the debts, what exactly was the rationale for getting this degree?

There are also a number of us millennials who are the first in our family to go to college. That means there it is very likely that neither us, nor our parents, fully understood the lifetime burden we were foisting on ourselves when we took out these loans.

I’m not sure what “fully understanding” entails, but one might wonder exactly what consequences were expected from $253,000 in non-discharagable debt? Sadly, the truth of much of life is that ignorance does not necessarily mitigate consequences, which is why it is so crucial to make good, well-thought through decisions about these sorts of things.

The point of all of this is to say . . . give us a break. We are trying. We are doing the best we can, with the hand we’ve been dealt.

I am on board with not painting an entire generation with a broad stroke brush. However, almost all of the ostensible responsibility taking (which is a good thing) in this article seems to be contradicted here with this one little phrase: “the hand we’ve been dealt.” Granted, there are numerous things in life beyond our control, but the reality of the situation is that ultimately it was her decision to get the degree she did at the institution she did at the price she did with the loans she took out. If anything, it was the hand she largely dealt herself. I can certainly appreciate trying, but a large part of trying is completely owning one’s decisions and the consequences that ensue.

That, I think, is where many critiques of millennials comes from, and unfortunately this article doesn’t necessarily help to sway an already unfair and often unwarranted opinion away from that. Like other articles I have looked at, it also misses a huge opportunity in that the author does little to use her story and her pain as a way to plead with others of her generation and the next to make wise decisions with their educational choices and to avoid debt and the pain especially large amounts of debt brings.

Thus, instead of countering the misconception of millennials with someone who accepts responsibility for her decisions and owns the consequences of those decisions, even though painful, we get snark and sarcasm and pointing fingers and even some creeping victimization.

And since she deems to speak for all millennials, is this the perception she wants everyone else to have of them?

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Jason Watson

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