Generation Debt

<i>Why Now Is the Worst Time to Be Young.</i> By Anya Kamenetz. <i>Riverhead Books. $23.95.</i>

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I worked my way through college in five years with scholarships, grants, loans, and three jobs. That makes me a member of “Generation Debt”—one of the twenty- and thirtysomethings born into an era of unsurpassed opportunities and unprecedented arrears. On average, we graduate from college more than $20,000 in hock, facing a job market with declining earnings and nonexistent job security. “With so many of us heading into our 30s with five figures of debt,” writes Anya Kamenetz in this sometimes brilliant, sometimes banal book, “saving for a far-off retirement sounds like a joke—even breaking even seems like a remote possibility.”

Through dozens of interviews and a barrage of statistics, Kamenetz, a 25-year-old Yale graduate and Village Voice columnist, documents higher education’s historic transformation into an $85-billion-a-year loan industry. But she often substitutes pop-culture clichés and rhetoric about wealth redistribution for tough questions about policy and personal responsibility. How much debt is due to an unfair system, and how much is due to bad decisions by young people or their parents?

Either way, debt sidetracks careers and suffocates dreams. Faced with lingering loans and credit card bills, too many young people feel they must, as one young grad tells Kamenetz, “go through your life doing something you don’t want to do…. If your only option is taking out loans, it sucks you right back into the system.” For me, the American Dream is still alive—it’s just under the table, hiding out from Sallie Mae and Citigroup.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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