Law school was supposed to be Erika Stallings' path to financial stability. The first in her family to attend college, Stallings earned a full ride to the University of North Carolina, and then chose to attend Georgetown Law because the school offered her a partial scholarship. But she graduated with $115,000 in student loans anyway, and today, the $1,000 monthly loan payment eats up a big chunk of her paycheck. So despite her white-collar job and fancy diplomas, she remains in a state of financial precariousness.
"I'm probably as well-off as someone age 30 can be," Stallings said in an interview. "But even I feel the panic of knowing if I lost my job today, because I've been trying to pay off as much debt as possible, I don't have the Suze Orman emergency fund. If I were unemployed for a while, trying to keep up with these $1,000 a month payments would be terrifying."….
"I don't have a familial safety net," Stallings said. "If I didn't have this student loan debt, I could start building my own safety net. There would be more money for me to send home. I could switch careers. Last year I had major surgery—adding those bills onto the student loan debt is scary."
Um, the "career" that Stallings would like to "switch" out of is called "lawyer." Granted that law jobs aren't what they used to be these days, Georgetown is one of America's top law schools, and the "white-collar job" of a 30-year-old Georgetown Law grad (which means she was probably 25 when she took the bar exam and thus has five full years of legal-eagle experience) ought to pay enough to make a $1,000-a-month loan payment manageable, especially if you're "well-off," as Stallings claims to be. Maybe Stallings needs to vacation less and stay at home reading Suze Orman more.
Stallings, who sounds to me as though she's done pretty well for a first-generation college student, is the poster child of an article in Vice titled "Student Loan Debt Is Leaving Women Broke and Vulnerable." The point is that women take out bigger student loans than men–and it's all society's fault:
While it's a significant feminist achievement that women now account for 57 percent of graduates earning bachelor's degrees, those women are more likely than their male peers to start their careers in a financial hole: 68 percent of those female graduates are leaving school with some amount of student loan debt, compared to 63 percent of men.
Here's why, according to Vice writer Jill Filopovic:
Women make up 62 percent of students at private and often pricey four-year institutions, where tuition costs are often in five-figure range….
Well, that's dumb. If you can't afford a fancy private college, what's wrong with a cheap state school?
[T]here are also a million more women than men in community colleges, which are more affordable, but have high drop-out rates – just one in five first-time full-time community college students graduates in five years, leaving the ones who don't with limited job prospects and accumulated debt.
So graduate already–in the two years (not five) that community college is supposed to take.
Once they graduate—if they graduate—women make less money than men , and so spend a greater proportion of their salaries to pay off their loans. So while their male peers have more money to play with – to put into a 401k, to invest, to save for a home, to put in an emergency fund, to use as a cushion when they take a big career risk – women throw much of their income down a student debt hole that often stretches on for decades…..
There is some degree of "choice" involved in the pay gap – insofar as women funneled into certain careers and men into others is a "choice." More women major in the humanities than in fields like business, engineering and the sciences, which usually lead to better-paying jobs after graduation. Within employment sectors, men gravitate toward high-paying specialties, while women may focus on areas that are more fulfilling or more flexible, but less remunerative.
Is someone holding a gun to college women's heads and forcing them to major in Third World Literature? Women are constantly whining about there not being enough of them in STEM careers–so how about "funneling" themselves into one of those remunerative science and engineering majors? And, right,"fulfilling" jobs often come at a price–a salary price. You can't have everything.
And then we have Suzanne Meyer, a 43-year-old high school English teacher. Teaching high school sounds like a pretty good gig to me, what with the job security, the long vacations, and those public-employee pensions that people slaving in the private sector can only dream about:
Meyer took out about $30,000 in loans to go to graduate school and get her teaching license. After consolidating, deferring, and missing payments, she now owes nearly $60,000.
Skipping loan payments will do that to you.
So Meyer is hoping that–you guessed it–the government will step in and make all that nasty debt go away:
The $5,000 she's hoping to get from the federal loan forgiveness program will make a dent, Meyer said, but not a big enough one. She would like to see the government consider more innovative ways people with student loan debt could repay it—for example, by volunteering or tutoring in a state or federal educational program.
"It's unrealistic to say I want the whole loan to go away," Meyer said. "I did borrow the money. But I can give back in other ways that the government needs. It's a government loan and the government needs certain things – there are programs out there that need assistance and I would be capable of doing that. Let me pay it back in a different way."
The "different way," of course, involves us taxpayers footing Meyer's grad-school bill for her.
It would be nice, if, for a change, women stopped blaming society for their less-than-wise decisions about college and career, and then expecting society to pick up the pieces, they took the responsibility for making wiser ones.