A massive crisis is quietly building with rapidly burgeoning student college loans caused by equally snowballing increases in college costs: the inability of indebted college students to marry and raise children after graduation. Yet there is an answer to this problem.
As noted in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, student loans taken out to pay for college costs now exceed $1 trillion nationally! And, as also noted in the article, these loans are preventing former students from undertaking the costs of marriage and, even more, bearing and rearing children.
A friend’s grandchild and her husband — both college graduates — have incurred together a total of over a quarter of a million dollars of debt. They have monthly payments exceeding $2,000. How can they or those like them finance a family?
Recent demonstrations by students at Fresno State and the University of California speak loudly of the terrible burden that the increases of tuition and fees are placing on the shoulders of our youngsters.
So what is the answer? To partially forgive a student’s loan when a child is born and to do so for each subsequent child as well. There is precedent for this in the student loan program already: If a student works for either a nonprofit or a government entity for 10 years, then his remaining federal student loan balance will be canceled on eligible loans. So why not extend this to having children?
There is also precedent for favoring children in the U.S. Every time a child is born, a person gets an additional exemption on his income tax, thereby reducing his tax burden. Additionally, we have created tax-favored educational saving accounts and have shielded children up to age 26 by allowing them to be on their parents’ medical policies.
And such child-friendly policies abound in other nations. France has created a superb system of free or low-cost child care centers subsidized by the government to ease the burden of working mothers. Finland gives every mother a full year’s leave of absence (unpaid) with the right to return to her job. Many nations actually give a cash subsidy upon the birth of a child.
Why is this loan forgiveness important? At a minimum, those with college loans should have the ability to rear a family as well as all other members of society. Why should we single out those with loans to inhibit them from starting a family?
And I would argue that such individuals are the ones we want most of all to have families. They have shown the willingness to dream of the future, to strive to improve themselves and, by extension, their society. Who else would be better chosen to replace our aging population with new gifted and motivated children than this multicultural, multiethnic lower- and middle-class group?
How would this work? For each child a woman bore or person adopted, he or she would receive a partial per percentage credit on his or her student loan. The same would be true for each subsequent child. Perhaps the fourth child could wipe out the loan entirely. A reduction per child would partially compensate for the increased cost of the child. I would extend the partial forgiveness to legally married spouses, since they are the ones additionally burdened with the legal obligation of support.
Since their legal obligation is less clear, cohabiting spouses would be barred. This would strike a blow for reinforcing traditional marriage, which has been losing ground in the U.S.
We are facing a barren landscape where our most educated young people are heavily burdened with loan payments, inhibiting them from starting a family when they are the ones who hold the future of all of us in their hands. It is time to address this problem by giving relief and support to them.
Phil Fullerton is a resident of Fresno.
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