Student Debt

According to the Book of Leviticus in the Old Testament, “the 50thyear shall be a jubilee to you.” In that year, it was decreed that all prisoners and slaves would be freed, the land would lie fallow, and all debts would be forgiven. The Jubilee year was intended to reset the social, economic, and cultural relationships that tend to get out of kilter over time; it was a way to ensure the security, stability, and wellbeing of the community so that the people could renew themselves and live in ways that reflect more virtuous relationships with God, with each other, and with creation.

Today, nearly one out of every six American adults – 43 million people – have outstanding federal student loans adding up to $1.73 trillion in debt, which is more than all other household debts except for mortgages – more than credit card debt and auto loans. The outstanding student debt in America has helped to tip our national economy out of kilter. Instead of investing in new housing, new businesses, and new families, people, especially younger debtors, must devote a large portion of their income to paying down their loans. It has the effect of stagnating the economy and retarding more worthy growth.

Cancelling student loan debt could help those 43 million people focus on their futures, and it would put us on track to pursue a more equitable economic recoveryas millions of families would then be able to invest in themselves, their communities, and their futures.

One argument against cancelling student debt is the understandable one voiced by those people who have struggled in the past to repay their own student loans with no help from the government. “Why,” they ask, “should current borrowers get a free ride when I didn’t?” It’s a valid point. But, according to a recent report by Moody’s, the financial services company, total loan cancellation could potentially boost U.S. real GDP by $86 billion to $108 billion per year, which, in the long run, would benefit everybody in our society – not just the lucky ones who happen to profit directly. There’d be more jobs, more real wealth, more vibrant economic activity and, potentially, “more joy throughout the land.”

Many believe that the President can cancel student debt with a stroke of his pen, while others say that only Congress can effect meaningful change in the system. Either way, it’s time that we return to the virtuous concept of the Jubilee. By cancelling student debt, we can reset our social, economic, and cultural relationships, thus ensuringthe security, stability, and wellbeing of our communities. Now’s the time!