Student Loans are the Modern-Day “Company Store” for the Middle Class

“Saint Peter, don’t you call me, ’cause I can’t go…”

Photo: Public Domain

I haven’t been able to afford to pay my federal student loans in years. They’ve been in default, which I accepted because I was a tipped employee so my “wages to garnish” were non-existent. Do you want my $30 paycheck? Have at it.

The problem with the government and federal debt is that they don’t consider your private debt when they factor how much you need to pay each month.

I have entirely too much private debt, and also, I have to eat, have a phone, have the internet, etc. The latter might have been luxury items back in 2003 but today, they’re necessities. Also, I’m already paying about $600 a month in student loans. I simply can’t afford another $500 without being homeless.

I’m finally in a situation where I might be able to rectify this issue, and the reason why is incredibly fucked up: I’m unemployed.

I’ve been in a rat race for years trying to “make as much money as possible to pay my debt,” which simultaneously led me to “making too much money to have affordable debt payments.” I took a job as a tipped employee right out of undergrad and never got away from it because of how well it paid. What it didn’t pay was a living hourly wage to cover income tax, so after seven or eight years I have finally caught up on the back taxes I’ve owed from when the minimum wage for tipped employees was $5.00 an hour.

My situation is fucked, but it isn’t the worst-case scenario. I know people who have $300,000 of debt, who are working jobs that pay $60,000 a year. I know people with the same six-figure debt as I have, making slightly above $30,000.

Student loan companies and private education costs have become the modern-day “company store.”

If a family makes 50 cents over the poverty line (a mild exaggeration,) prospective students have to borrow money to get a college education. Mind you, a Bachelor’s Degree today might as well be called a “high school diploma,” because that’s about all it’s worth.

Jobs these days don’t pay enough to even make a dent in that debt. It’s no wonder so many people are becoming entrepreneurs. Working for anyone but yourself is like being a miner, owing your life to the proverbial company store.

Have any of you ever heard the song “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford?

I grew up in a coal mining area of Pennsylvania, so I know all too well what the song is about. Coal miners would rent their homes and buy their goods from the “company store,” but the company store charged prices that were higher than the wages the miners earned. Thus, the miners were forever in debt to the “company store,” and couldn’t ever escape coal mining.

When I was working in a restaurant, I felt like I was a miner, slaving away to a proverbial company store, my loan companies. If I lost my job, I wouldn’t be able to pay the piper.

It was only because of the GLOBAL HEALTH CRISIS that I was finally able to catch a small break. Because I was involuntarily shoved out of my job, I was able to suspend payments on a lot of my loans, albeit temporarily. This allowed me to play some serious catch-up.

With being unemployed and making basically nothing for the entirety of 2020, after I file taxes for this year, it’ll show that I’m poor, and thus, I’ll be able to qualify for an affordable payment from the government and probably finally be able to drag those loans out of default.

Imagine that. All it took was losing my job during a global health and economic crisis — not the years of hard work I put in or the tens of thousands of dollars that barely budged the principle of what I owe.

Student loans are the new “company store.” You go to college, and then you take a job that will never pay you enough to tackle your debt. You go get an advanced degree because you think that will fix the problem, spend another $100,000, and get a slightly higher paying job to now tackle two or three times the amount of debt you originally had.

If you don’t pay the debt, your credit goes to hell, and you can’t buy a house. You do pay the debt, you can’t afford the house anyway.

“You load sixteen tons, what do you get?”

I’m an unconventional thinker with quick wit. Coach. Sociologist. Mindset shift guru. Creator of and the Get The F*ck Off Podcast

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