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Could be Worse! | Occupied Stories

Categorized | Debt Stories

Could be Worse!

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New York, NY – The title of my story comes from a popular children’s series, which chronicled the fabulous tales that a grandpa recounted to his grandkids at bedtime. Though terrible things would befall him, he’d wryly state, “Could have been worse!”

I was one of the lucky ones whose parents footed most of my undergrad bill. But, between the remainder and what I took out for my (first) master’s program, I accumulated about $55,000 in debt. Federal debt, so hey, not so bad, right? It could be worse.

Both my undergrad and master’s degrees were in an “impractical” subject. ¬†However, I was not impractical in my assumptions; I never expected to be heavily remunerated for my work. I ¬†figured I could get by well enough and eventually secure a middle-class position (and a master’s degree is a de facto requirement in my field for that sort of position).

Even if I failed to find suitable, stable work in my field, I could always get a job and be comfortable. Afterall, I had done so during my three-year higher-education hiatus. I always had something to fall back on. Not so bad, not at all.

I completed my master’s nearly two years ago. It was not the time to be looking for jobs in my field (hell, when will it be?) Besides, I had an OK job, making just enough, with full benefits, including health insurance paid for by my employer – was I going to get that at some entry-level position? Health insurance is crucial for me now, as I am on several medications and one costs over $200 per month without coverage.

Boo hoo, right? It could be worse. I have a job, insurance, and make enough to qualify me as lower-middle class, at least in New York. I may have taken on too much debt ($30K would have been more reasonable), but I only took out “responsible” federal loans. I have an Income-Based Repayment Plan. I can afford my bills. I have a great credit score.

Here’s where it goes south: I pay nearly $300 a month in loans, and that doesn’t even cover interest, which continues to accrue. I also had periods of forbearance when I was unemployed (helloooo, 2008!) With IBR, my debt is discharged after 25 years of payment, but I will be in my 50s by then. Even assuming I make more eventually (that’s where the second master’s program comes in – and I’m paying out of pocket), I’ll just barely be able to make a little headway on the principal. So yeah, a lifetime of debt for me. Can’t discharge it! I could run up $20K in credit card debt and declare ¬†bankruptcy, but it wouldn’t do a damned thing for my student loans.

Every month I think about where that money could be going. Savings. A vacation. Even simple things like some new clothes, healthier groceries, books, charity. But still, not so bad.

I have other debt, too – about $1700 on one credit card, mostly accumulated during my many months of unemployment. At its peak it was close to $3K.

But it’s my fault, right? That’s our society for you. Protestant, guilt-mongering, individualistic. The ones reaping the profits have no culpability, didn’t you know? Those are our “job-creators” (aka a new spin on an old classic, the rentier).

But what’s the heart of all of this, of my discontent? Not my depleted earnings. No, not really, though that money would be nice. Afterall, we’re implements of capitalism and we are in fact capital itself, in the form of living labor – all our earnings are depleted! It’s not bankruptcy law, either, though that’s beyond fucked up (feel free to edit profanity – I don’t care, I just write how I would speak).

It’s the fear. The fear that global capital – which by definition has seeped into every corner of the world and is devouring itself as it can no longer move outwardly – is killing our will to fight, and to understand it.

Many people feel powerless, and they don’t know why. I do, but feel powerless to reach them. It’s very hard; people are used to the world-view that has been imposed on them. Unless they see things like student debt, credit card debt, unemployment and poverty not as failed policy decisions needing reform but rather as heads of the same hydra that creates war, racism, environmental devastation, and wreaks havoc on bodies, minds, and our very human essence, then we are lost. We face the potential rise of fascism, of environmental apocalypse, of never-ending war and neo-serfdom. All due to our misunderstanding, our misplacement, our despair and inaction.

Though I feel the fear, I do not feel despair. It isn’t too late. It just isn’t. Look at the world for what it is and the truths will be apparent.

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