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Cradle to Grave: Student Debt Now Bankrupting Seniors

By Sarita Gupta

September 28, 2014 "ICH" - "The Hill" -  As if aging in America isnít hard enough these days, a new government report has uncovered that seniors are facing yet another barrier to a secure retirement: their student debt. Once thought to be a young personís issue, new data released by the Government Accountability Office shows that older Americans are also finding themselves buried under the weight of their student loans. The data helps paint a much larger picture of the overall economic insecurity that too many of our countryís seniors face every day.

According to a recent story based on the report, a record number of borrowers are seeing their Social Security payments garnished because their federal student loans are in default. As the story explains, ďMore than half, or 54 percent, of federal student loans held by borrowers at least 75 years old are in default, according to the federal watchdog. About 27 percent of loans held by borrowers aged 65 to 74 are in default. Among borrowers aged 50 to 64, 19 percent of their loans are in default. The Education Department generally defines a default as being at least 360 days past due.Ē

The price of an education is quickly becoming too heavy a burden for far too many people, and itís a burden thatís staying with them forever. College debt looms large as the most difficult debt to get rid of, and these numbers paint a startling picture of exactly how big a toll itís taking on people as they age. For many, student debt is following them from the cradle to the grave Ė theyíre condemned to a lifetime of payments that stagnant wages and mounting economic insecurity make it nearly impossible to manage.

Whatís even scarier is that the health and retirement security of our friends and neighbors was, in many ways, already in jeopardy. In fact, the very idea of retiring has increasingly become a pipe dream for most workers. People are working until they die just to get access to health insurance and because they donít have enough saved in retirement. If they ever do stop working, too many are living in fear that debt collectors will come garnish their Social Security payments. Student loan debt is just the latest in a long line of threats to the financial well-being of seniors.

And the problem is only going to get worse. Every eight seconds, someone turns 65 in this country. But as is true for the student-debt crisis, our country has no comprehensive plan to support our aging parents and grandparents and only a very fragmented, fragile system to cover them financially, medically or otherwise. At the end of the day, itís becoming increasingly impossible to age securely in America without incredible wealth, which is further and further out of reach for younger generations.

That threat puts all of us in jeopardy. It endangers an already fragile economic recovery, and it exacerbates the financial vulnerability of people who have worked all of their lives to provide for themselves and their families. If our economy doesnít work for students, and it doesnít work for workers, and it definitely doesnít work for seniors, you have to wonder, is it time to try a different approach?

Sarita Gupta is the executive director of Jobs with Justice, a national network of more than 40 local coalitions of labor, community, student, and faith organizations, working together to build a broader global movement for economic and social justice.

©2014 Capitol Hill Publishing Corp

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