Let’s trade. Millennials’ student loan debt for Baby Boomers’ social security

On the same day Presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren announced her plan to eliminate student loan debt and make college free, the social security administration released its annual report announcing the high probability that social security will be insolvent by 2035, barring a rare and significant display of problem-solving by Congress.

At first blush, these two pieces of news may seem unrelated. But as I, a millennial, look closely at my future and at my tax payments, paying into an uncertain social security program makes me think that as a generation, we are getting slighted. As the largest generation paying into social security, we not only deserve a break — the country will be healthier for giving us one.

In conversations about erasing student debt, the idea of getting rid of it is discussed as a hyper-progressive idea, which is interesting since, as GQ writer Luke Darby points out, Warren’s debt cancellation plan comes in $60 billion shy of what was given to bail out banks in 2008. But bank bailouts were considered by most in the mainstream to be necessary, not radical. The argument was that bailing out banks was the only way to save the American economy, because Americans rely on banks.

Well, student loans are choking younger American generations enough that it is affecting the overall health of our economy. Millennials, the largest generation in America, are not buying homes and cars like our parents and grandparents did, not because as a collective we’ve come to terms with the unsustainability of unfettered consumption, but rather, because we can’t afford it when stacked against student loan payments. Together, 44 million of us hold over $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, with the average amount owed at around $37,000.

Full disclosure: I only have $1500 in remaining student loan debt because I went to a school with an endowment large enough to pay for kids from middle and low income households to go mostly for free. I say that to point out that one doesn’t need to be directly affected by a negative situation to see the benefits of addressing it. I may not be the primary target for Warren’s debt cancellation plan, but enough of my peers are that I see the overall economic benefit that a policy like this would have on the well being of the country.

So how does that relate to social security? Back when social security was first introduced, it was considered radical. But in 2019, it has become such an integral part of American life that many people reach retirement with few other sources of income. Millennials are the largest part of the workforce, and we support retirees by paying into social security, but the mechanism that is supposed to keep up the cycle of security may be dissolving for us. To add insult to injury, those in power, who happen to disproportionately be at social security age, seem to have little desire to support millennials in the way we are supporting them by cancelling, or at least relieving, the debt that’s stifling economic growth.

While the Social security administration provides talking points about how it might solve its insolvency problem, Millennials and Gen Z’ers have to come to terms with the fact that we may be on our own in retirement, just as we are on our own with our current economic struggles. Since older American generations are not providing real investments for our future (I haven’t touched on the country’s decaying infrastructure or lack of investment in climate protections), the very least that could be done to support us is to give our generation a financial break on par with what was offered to banks in 2008.

Student loan cancellation in exchange for social security. Sounds like a fair trade to me.

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