Why You Should Join the #MillionStudentMarch: Student Debt

The Million Student March is happening on November 12th! To sign up and find or start a local event in your area, visit studentmarch.org.

There are three demands:

  • Tuition-Free Public College
  • Cancellation of All Student Debt
  • A $15 Minimum Wage for All Campus Workers

Many people are already fully aware of the negative effects that the rising cost of education is having on our lives. For instance, when Bernie Sanders introduced his proposal for free public education a few months ago, he stressed the importance of these issues:

“We have a crisis in higher education today. Too many of our young people cannot afford a college education and many of those who are leaving school are faced with crushing debt. It is a national disgrace.”

Mitch Daniels, the president of Purdue University and former Republican governor of Indiana, also understands the effect that student loans have on our lives:

“Men and women laboring under student debt are postponing marriage, childbearing and home purchases, and…pretty evidently limiting the percentage of young people who start a business or try to do something entrepreneurial. Every citizen and taxpayer should be concerned about it.”

Melinda Lewis, an associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare, notes how our current system eliminates the idea that college is the great equalizer:

“You wind up disadvantaged just as you begin. It has reduced the ability of our educational system to be a force for upward mobility, and for an equitable chance at upward mobility. It is still true that you are better positioned if you go to college, but you are not as much better positioned if you have to go to college with debt.”

Enough of the quotes, let’s take a look at the statistics:

Living at Home

According to a new study from Pew Research Center, 26 percent of young Americans are living at home with their parents, and this percentage is actually increasing, even as the population of young adults in the workforce continues to rise:

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This chart shows how the youth unemployment rate increased dramatically after 2008, before falling each year after 2010. Despite the fact that more millennials are employed and median weekly earnings have increased by $26 since last year, the percentage of young adults living independently has still decreased 4 percent since 2011.

This personal account from Holly Johnson, the creator of Club Thrifty, highlights many of the reasons why many young people are unable to leave their hometowns to assert their independence.

“I lived at my parents, paid down the loan on my car, and saved for our wedding so we could pay for the bulk of it with cash. Being able to live with them during that time was huge for us and really helped us start off our real ‘adult’ lives on solid financial footing.”

We graduate with massive amounts of student debt and are frequently underemployed and underpaid, so of course it makes sense to avoid rent payments, utilities, and the other expenses. However, this dynamic leaves us unable to assert our independence or participate meaningfully in the economy, as we delay major purchases.


Owning a home has frequently been viewed as an essential part of the American Dream, even without the white picket fence included. However, students today are graduating with an average of $35,000 in student loan debt, and those who attend pricey private schools or continue their education with a graduate degree are likely to be weighed down by six-figure debt loads. Saddled with so much debt upon graduation, how can these students take out mortgages or put down payments on new homes?

The answer of course, is that many of us simply can’t. Homeownership for millennials has dropped to 36.2 percent, a historic low since the U.S. Census began to measure homeownership by age in 1982.

Dean Baker, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, acknowledges the causes of this trend:

“The labor market for younger people remains pretty bad. Obviously you’re worse off without a college degree, but for people with college degrees, if they have a regular job, often it’s not paying very well and often they are jobs that pay just as well for people who have just a high school degree. They also have a lot of debt. So it’s not surprising that people in their late 20s or early 30s are less likely to buy a home than what might have been the case 20 or 30 years ago.”

Recently, New America published a study titled “Millennials and Homeownership”. This graph says it all:

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As you can see, homeownership rates have been dropping for all Americans since 2004. However, the rates for those under 35 years old have plummeted much more dramatically, especially since 2008. While this trend changed in 2012-2013, with a 0.27 percent increase in rates among those under 35 years old, it’s clear that less millennials than ever are able to buy a home.

Another graph from The New York Times, shows the same story:

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Here we see that fewer Americans in their late twenties are taking out mortgages. While student debt is one cause, the rate is even dropping among those who didn’t take out loans to attend school. One cause of this could be due to a change in the structure of mortgages since the financial crisis.

There are many articles which suggest that renting is more expensive than buying a home, but many young people simply don’t have this option, leaving us disadvantaged. If we aren’t living at home with our parents, many of us are spending thousands every month on rent. While those who own homes still need to pay mortgages, utilities, upkeep, and other costs, in the long run they will have a home in their name, while millennials will have to continue renting.

Having a Child

Not only are we increasingly unable to move out from our parents’ basement or take out mortgages to buy a home, but predictably, we are also having difficulties starting a family.

This is reflected in the latest data from the National Vital Statistics Reports (NVSS), which show that birthrates among women aged 20-24 are 81.2 births per 1000 women, down 2 percent from 2012 and also a record low.

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From this figure, the trends are clear. Women under 30 have seen a decrease in birthrates, especially since 2008. However, after 30 is a completely different story, with each age group experiencing an increase in birthrates. Women today are waiting longer to have children.

However, this is only part of the story. Stewart Friedman, the professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study in 1992 which found that 78 percent of graduating Wharton students planned to have children. He repeated this study in 2012 and was shocked as the number dropped by 36 percent:

“When I first saw those numbers on my computer screen, I thought, no, that can’t be right.”

As we already know, this actually makes perfect sense considering the challenges we face as a generation, as well as the increasing rate of childcare. While we see more women over 30 giving birth, it is certainly possible that younger women aren’t planning to have children at all, and birthrates will decline further. This could have a significant effect on our economy in the future, especially as the massive generation of baby boomers begin to retire.

Getting Married

Apart from childbirth, marriage rates are also way down among young people. According to a study by Pew Research, between 2009 and 2010, the percentage of adults aged 18-24 who were recently married has plummeted 13 percent.

When comparing with 1960, we can see a stark difference:

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 3.06.10 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 3.06.29 PM

While marriage is down among all age groups, we can see that the disparity is highest among those 18-24 years of age. Not only are millennials not getting married, but a majority don’t even include marriage in their future plans, according to a recent Gallup survey:

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 3.03.42 PM

Among the reasons that are given among all age groups, we can see that at least 14 percent specifically cite money as a cause to avoid tying the knot. It can also be argued that our economic climate contributes to the 22 percent who are too young or not ready, or the 26 percent that haven’t found the right person, due to so many people postponing major life plans.

While student debt and insufficient job opportunities are not the sole cause of these dynamics, they certainly contribute to our reluctance to leave home, take out a mortgage, get married and start a family.

Our education system is broken, and we are paying a higher tuition each year for an education which is increasingly not helping us in the job market. However, we can’t give up. Students across the country must fight for a $15/hour minimum wage to rise the income of all workers. We must eliminate the tuition of public universities to provide an opportunity for all members of our society to obtain a higher education regardless of income. Finally, we must abolish student debt, because a large percentage of our generation has been robbed of our economic futures.

This isn’t impossible. We start on November 12th at the Million Student March. Sign up and find your local event at StudentMarch.org.

We are more than our degrees and job titles. We are not a loan. The time has come for us to stand up and fight back!

David Robin

Lifelong progressive and activist in solidarity with oppressed people around the world. During the day, I'm a Social Media Manager and Office Manager for an energy storage start-up. On the side, I'm a Millennial organizer for Bernie Sanders, social media consultant (DRSocialMedia.me), and the co-founder of Angry Millennials. I also have a MA in Sociology from The New School.

One thought on “Why You Should Join the #MillionStudentMarch: Student Debt

  1. Charles Walker

    If you take a loan Pay it back, The goverment took my pay (50 %) and my tax refunds (100%) till it was pain up in full. my loans (3) were from the 1970 / 1980s, The kept charging interest and taking all of it up till 2008 when the final payment was taken from my paycheck. If you thing you can get a free ride forget it — you dont. Its a harsh reality buy thats life….. Don’t Take a Loan if you know you will never pay it back.
    Like · Reply · Just now

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