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Student Loan Bubble
Is Student Debt Contributing to Wealth Inequality?

The student loan crisis isn’t just hurting young graduates, it may be contributing to the overall rise in wealth inequality as well. The math is pretty simple: wealthy students who can afford to go to college without taking on loans can immediately begin investing their money and saving for retirement as soon as they enter the workforce. Their less well-off peers, however, spend these years paying off their considerable debts, thus expanding the gap that existed at the beginning. As the AP reports:

“If you graduate with a B.A. or doctorate and you get the same job at the same place, you make the same amount of money,” said William Elliott III, director of the Assets and Education Initiative at the University of Kansas. “But that money will actually mean less to you in the sense of accumulating assets in the long term.” […]

At the other end of the spectrum is Zbylut, an accountant-turned-attorney in Glendale, Calif. He’s been chipping away at nearly $160,000 in student debt since graduating in 2005 from law school at Loyola University in Chicago. Now 48, the tax attorney estimates he could have $150,000 to $200,000 in a 401(k) had the money he’s paid toward loans gone there.

“I’m sitting here in traffic. I’ve got a Mercedes behind me and an Audi in front of me and I’m thinking, ‘What did they do that I didn’t do?'” Zbylut said by cellphone from his Chevrolet. He’s been turned down twice for the type of mortgage he needs to buy a home big enough for himself, the fiancee he would have married already if not for his debts and her 10-year-old son.

None of this is terribly surprising on the face of it, but it serves as yet another warning bell at how deeply misguided education policy has been in this country for decades. Expanding access to education is critical for any nation’s future prosperity, but doing so by expanding indebtedness is not the right formula. We need to rethink the very delivery mechanism of education, from high school to university rather than fiddling around with solutions that end up causing more harm than good.

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  • Dan

    yes, next question

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    If we want more people educated, we must reduce the cost of education drastically (90%-95%). The only way I see to do this is to offer cheap certified online courses which don’t require any onerous admission requirements, textbooks, or deadlines. Standard degrees to be awarded automatically when required classes are completed. As things now stand, once a degree is earned most never see the inside of a classroom again, this has to change to a culture of continuous learning.

  • Anthony

    This guy attended a private law school in an expensive city, which is definitely the wrong choice unless you are attending one of the “holy trinity” schools, i.e, Harvard, Yale or Stanford.

    In this video, the dean of the University of Nebraska Law School shows just how much better it is to attend a public law school in an inexpensive area. The difference in debt, and in debt service, is incredible. It can mean the difference between a monthly payment of $600 or one of $1,600.

    National Jurist magazine has a list of “value law schools” that are ranked according to a formula that takes into account debt and job prospects. It’s interesting to note that nearly all of the value law schools are in red states. This is a huge example of hypocrisy on the part of the democrats. Every once in a while they say “vote for us, and we will make higher education affordable.” Yeah right. Higher education is the most expensive in states that they control, like California and New York. When young people ask Obama what can be done to control higher ed costs, he should say “move to a state that would never consider voting for me.”

  • Anthony

    Student debt among other things adds to the growing U.S. wealth inequality.

  • Richard T

    Dog Bites Man say I. There is no essential difference between the interest a rich brat doesn’t pay on his/her student loans (or credit card balance or auto loan) and the interest s/he does get on investments.

    Try this: rich brat invests 100k in securities backed by student loans and then borrows 100k to pay for college. What just happened? Absolutely nothing. The existence of a student loan, as such, is immaterial.

    What is material, as JL points out, is the absurd cost of training for a career. Even this is hardly surprising: in an economy where good jobs are scarce, a qualification that opens the way to a good job is likely to be expensive. Hard to evade supply’n’demand.

  • Joseph Blieu

    Per Anthony’s posted law school ad video, it makes an exellent point but as a side point only the natural ethics of a law school chair would permit a video with subliminal persuasion, clumsy as it was. Lawyer jokes are true, what a lawyer says is not. I thought Nebraska was nice.

  • Jim__L

    This also helps explain the disappearance of the Middle Class.

    You’re paying off student loans instead of buying consumer goods, houses, starting families, and all the rest.

    And all the time, college is some kind of Fiddler’s Green — it’s the vision that that Old Man of the Mountain would present to recruits, a world of no real responsibilities, wine, women, and song, that mere reality can’t possibly deliver. The Government (or intellectual elite) supplies everything, everyone there has it all figured out, it’s everyone’s happy place, and if we all just follow the ideologies that universities teach, and let the philosopher-kings have their way, the whole world would be just as perfect.

    It’s a potent illusion.

    It’s crashing down.

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