Learning is serious business in this country, especially learning in order to earn or secure employment. Children are taught early the value of education and its relationship to earning a living; a good job puts food on the table and pays the bills. Learning to earn is the key to financial success and security. But a recent study by Forbes revealed a different aspect of the belief in learning to earn. Debt. We’re taking it to the grave, or the crematorium. 1

Seventy-three percent of U.S. consumers die owing; in debt! Here’s the breakdown: credit card balances, mortgage debt, outstanding auto loans, and finally personal loans, including student loan debt, in that order. On average, 73% of Americans alive in October of 2016, but died in December 2016 owed approximately $25,000 (US), each, in student loans. This was their contribution to the $1.3 trillion dollar student loan debt crisis.   

In some ways, the student debt crisis is far more insidious than the housing market crisis that caused the crash in 2008. Back then, 862,000 families lost their homes, with 3.1 million foreclosures, or 1 in every 54 households, kicked right out of their homes when low interest rate mortgages quickly became regular interest rate mortgages.  That was almost ten years ago, when the student loan debt stood at $611 billion. That outstanding debt doubled in 2017, with 1 out of 10 student borrowers in default, making this delinquency the highest tracked by the New York Fed’s quarterly household debt report.2

7 million student borrowers are in default. To make matters worse, employers are conducting credit checks on potential employees and defaulting on a loan is enough to be turned down for a job. Figure that? You graduate with a $100,000 dollar bachelor’s degree in anthropology, $47,000 of which you owe to Citibank. You look for a job in your field for 6 months. No luck.

11 months out of college, you realize that you may have to take an entry-level position in management at Best Buy: a sales associate. By now, you’ve defaulted on your loan because you couldn’t come up with the $350.00 monthly payment that was due 6 months after graduation. But you can’t get a job to begin paying back the loan because the default is on your credit report! And the enthusiastic hiring team at Best Buy wants to make certain that you have good credit before they begin paying you, so you can earn a living and pay your bills, especially your student loan. The logic is unpardonable. Only felons, who supposedly have paid their debt to society, are treated worse in terms of being highly unemployable.

Any number of arguments and justifications are employed to explain student debt. Some argue that graduates who cannot find jobs in their field of study should have chosen a more marketable one. If students know that there will be only one opening available in the lower 48 for a historian in 19th century Mongolian yurt building technology, then they would be wise to consider another field.  Additionally, if there is a relationship between fields of study and the job market, then colleges and universities shouldn’t sell non-marketable degrees. If projections suggest that a maximum of 45 neurosurgeons will be needed in the next 5 years, why admit 350 into neurosurgery programs? Why allow students to borrow a half-million to help offset the $1.2 million cost of the average 7-year neurosurgery training program? 3   

If there is no market demand for retail specialists, especially with the decline in brick and mortar retail businesses, like Macy’s and J.C. Penny’s, then what is the point in retail education degrees?  

No one need borrow money from Fannie Mae to pursue a degree in rocket science to figure out what’s going on here.  

Take a quick glance at the positions and salaries listed below. 4   According to Forbes, the number one business magazine in the U.S., these are the top 19 jobs, with market growth rates starting at about 27%, increasing to about 37% at number 7, and ending with 43% for number 2 and 101% for number 1. The numbers in parentheses are my addition and are the average cost of the degree or training required for the job.

Note: repeat numbers are ties. 

 Optometrist 101,410 (42,000-71,000)  19. 

Hearing Aide Specialist 43,010 (38,000 in some states; can study online in others) 19.

 Audiologist 73,000 (doctorate 75,000-150,000; master’s 15,000-50,000) 15.

Interpreters and translators 43,590   (20,000-37,000) 15.

Genetic counselors 67,500 (14,000 certification) 15

Cartographers and photogrammetrist 60,930   (127,620) 15.

Personal financial advisors 81,000 (24,000-148,000) 12.

Operations Research Analyst 76,000 (business school as above) 12.

 Physician Assistant 95,800 (71,000-107,000) 12.

Occupational Therapy 26,550 (49,000-107,000) 11.

EMT 24,080 (800-1,000) 10.

Statisticians 79,990 (14,000-35,000) 8.

Physical Therapist 82,390 (see number 11) 8.

Nurse practitioner 95,000 (31,500) 7.

Commercial Divers 45,890 (14,901) 6.

Home Health Aides 21,380 (530, includes the cost of books) 5

Physical Therapy Aides 24,650 (650) 4.

Physical Therapy Assistants 54,410 (20,000) 3.

Occupational Therapy Assistants 56,950 (58,000) 2.

Wind Turbine Service Technicians 48,800 (20,000) 1.

Before you turn your thoughts to becoming a Wind Turbine Service Tec, let’s take a look at the list. It’s revelatory, a literal and metaphorical reflection of the state of our affairs. We’re losing our vision, alongside our hearing. We can’t see or hear the suffering caused by this belief system. We’re having problems reproducing caused by, among others, stress, obesity, poor lifestyle choices, and poor nutrition. Working and earning is destroying our bodies. Employees want employer-sponsored health plans naturally because they know that the job will make them sick, sooner or later.

The commercial diver who can tolerate 7 years welding at the bottom of the ocean floor for some oil company or Comcast will be likely confined to a wheel chair for rest of his life because of the damage done to his legs. The death rate for commercial divers is 40 times the national average.

EMTs, those often first responders to the hurt we inflict on ourselves and others, are so stressed they have a 23% turnover rate, the highest in the country.  

With the financial rules of the game always changing, we require someone to manage the money, and the debt. We only understand the language of our belief system. An idea, in a language that lies outside that box, needs interpretation. And the statistician?  She’ll continue to keep us informed with a quantitative analysis of the disintegrating narrative.

That unsustainable narrative includes the belief in earning a living, working to get ahead, owing and debt, and learning to earn.  As the federal government, banks and financial institutions continue to approve and dole out student loans, without understanding the relationship between unsustainable beliefs and the problems and crises these beliefs create, we’re likely to see that $1.3 trillion rise to $2.0 trillion before 2020.

It’s all because we have failed to learn, acknowledge and act upon the lessons that the Universe continues and has been teaching us for our millions of years on this planet. Collaboration, co-creating in union for the well-being of the planet, nonhuman and human communities and families; gifting, sharing, the radical expression of the talent that each of us brings when we take on physical form is the way to go. These are the lessons we need not borrow $25,000 to learn. These are the only lessons we need learn and accept to bring about the radical transformation in consciousness that will change the physical conditions of life on this planet. Ultimately, these are the lessons that will get us out of debt.

And that’s the rap about the belief in earning a living and working hard. Don’t forget that you can find the Call, Rap & RealTalk on Twitter, most Blue Mondays, Hump-day Wednesdays and TGIF Fridays, the most important days in the U.S. workplace.

Akilah t’Zuberi

Laurie Thompson, editor

More about the U.S. Workplace & Footnotes

I suppose we don’t think very much of Hollywood being a workplace, and acting as a job, but it is. The recent revelations about sexual harassment in Hollywood is staggering, but not surprising. Charges of sexual misconduct have been leveled against almost everyone, producers, directs and actors, and beyond Hollywood to news anchors and U.S. Congress members. http://www.businessinsider.com/ap-television-academy-expels-harvey-weinstein-for-life-2017-11

This article caught my attention as I was researching for the “Return to Divine Stewardship.” Again it wasn’t surprising to discover that many of the pension funds managed by American Century, Fidelity, T. Rowe Price, TIAA-CREF, and Vanguard Group, $55B (US), are invested in some of the worst companies for the environment. Imagine that! You work hard to earn a living, saving your money for retirement, and the air that you, your family and community is breathing is being polluted by a company that you’ve invested in. Twisted. While the article is from 2009, it’s doubtful that $55 billion has been divested because of any protest from disengaged employees. But you may want to investigate exactly where your monthly contributions are going. http://www.businessinsider.com/the-15-worst-companies-for-the-environment-2009-9/15-archer-daniels-midland-1


1 https://www.forbes.com/sites/zackfriedman/2017/02/21/student-loan-debt-statistics-2017/#7979994a5dab

2 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/17/business/dealbook/household-debt-united-states.html).

3 On average there are about 171 foreign students accepted into medical schools in the U.S., but the larger percentage of admissions are U.S. citizens. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3368516/