The real cost of student loans

I have a friend who is absolutely passionate about human rights, especially women’s rights. If she had her druthers, she would work full time to end the scourge of global human trafficking, especially trafficking in women and children. And she is highly qualified: a lawyer with an advanced degree in international law and organization.

The problem? Many of the non-profits that specialize in such work do not offer salaries large enough to allow her to pay her student loans in any kind of timely manner. Many young people believe they have to find high paying work in something like “corporate law” until the loans disappear. Then, they can do what they really care about.

The problem with that “solution,” as we know, is that people can get used to a large paycheck (even if a lot of it goes to loan payments) and never look back. They sometimes abandon their ideal work, and begin to “fit into” a corporate lifestyle.

My friend has not abandoned her ideals in any sense. She keeps looking, but so far, no luck after about 3 years. And she is not the only one I know in this situation. Nationwide, I’m sure there are tens of thousands of idealistic young people in this same situation. They are caught in a system that requires them to defer badly needed work for social justice.

The student loan reform under the Obama Administration helped the situation somewhat when it ended “private” loans that had outrageous interest rates. Now, student loans are public loans, going forward. It also helps when certain universities or programs “forgive” part or all of a person’s student loans when they work in impoverished areas, for example.

But something else needs to be done to forgive, partly or fully, the loans like those my friend has -- which are private loans from the previous era where there is no “forgiveness” mechanism for idealistic work. I’m not sure of a solution, especially in a deficit-minded age. But maybe the government could find a way to offer at least partial forgiveness for certain kinds of idealistic work.

For this I do know: the world is being deprived of talented, idealistic workers for social justice who are trying to keep their ideals alive while they pay their loans. t

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