Almost one-in-five American households now have student loan debt, according to a study released by the Pew Research Center. Up from just 15 percent in 2007, the study found that biggest burdens are falling on the young and the poor.
Total student debt has doubled since 1989, now impacting 22.4 million American households, and in recent years higher tuition rates and a rise in college enrollment have been the primary contributors.
Though families tightened belts during the recession, and continue to do so in a now hungover but recovering economy, college enrollment surged over the last several years. The study suggests that families, even more so in the face of a tough job market, still widely believe that a college education is an essential investment young people cannot afford to go without in an increasingly competitive global economy.
Only a small portion of college graduates secured well-paying jobs and began paying down their student loans since the collapse in 2008, while most college graduates accepted lower-paying or part-time jobs to try to keep their monthly student loan payments at bay. Others returned to school, hoping to increase their chances of finding a good job with more credentials.
Student debt has become such a pressing issue that both presidential candidates have spoken out on the subject earlier this year when the interest rate on Stafford loans was at risk of doubling.
However, this new report demonstrates that a long-term solution is desperately needed. More Americans are feeling the weight of student debt, and elected leaders need to act to prevent the problem from spreading. If they fail, the increasing debt load threatens to derail the economic progress the country has achieved and upend the success of future generations.