Blow and Collins

Mr. Blow looks at “A Dangerous ‘New Normal’ in College Debt” and says many students can’t earn their way out of this trap.  Ms. Collins has a question in “Senators Bearing Arms:”  People, do you think Congress is actually going to do anything about gun violence in the wake of the Newtown shootings?  The SASQ is “Hell, no.”  Here’s Mr. Blow:

We are reaching a crisis point in this country’s higher education system.

As college tuitions rise and state and local funding for higher education falls — along with median household incomes — students are taking on staggering levels of debt. And many can’t find jobs that pay well enough to quickly pay off the debt. This has long-term implications for our society and our economy, as that debt begins to affect when and if young people start families or enter the housing market.

The student debt crisis may become a dangerous “new normal,” according to a report this week by the nonprofit State Higher Education Executive Officers Association:

“In the ‘new normal,’ retirement and health care costs simultaneously drive up the cost of higher education, and compete with education for limited public resources. The ‘new normal’ no longer expects to see a recovery of state support for higher education such as occurred repeatedly in the last half of the 20th century. The ‘new normal’ expects students and their families to continue to make increasingly greater financial sacrifices in order to complete a postsecondary education. The ‘new normal’ expects schools and colleges to find ways of increasing productivity and absorb ever-larger budget cuts, while increasing degree production without, we hope, compromising quality.”

In constant dollars, state and local educational appropriations per full-time student reached their high in 2001, at $8,670. In 2012, those appropriations fell by nearly one third, to just $5,896.

The cost of tuition, on the other hand, has increased dramatically. According to a September report by CNN Money: “Over the past decade, average annual tuition for a year of community college has risen 40 percent to $3,122, according to the College Board, a nonprofit group that runs the SAT exam. At four-year public universities, the cost has risen 68 percent to $7,692 a year.”

Meanwhile, a September Census report shows, median household incomes fell by nearly 7 percent from 2001 to 2011. And there are now more Americans living in poverty than at any time since record-keeping began more than half a century ago.

This confluence of trends has led to higher borrowing by students.

An analysis last month by Donghoon Lee, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, found that “student debt is the only kind of household debt that continued to rise through the Great Recession” and is now the “second largest balance after mortgage debt.”

According to Mr. Lee, student loan debt is fast approaching a trillion dollars, up from less than $400 billion in 2004, and both the number of borrowers and the average balance per borrower have “increased by 70 percent between 2004 and 2012 (7 percent per year).”A September Pew Research Center report found that “a record one-in-five households now owe student loan debt.”

That report also found that student loan debt as a share of household income was 24 percent for families in the lowest income quintile. That was at least twice the share of any other quintile.

As the report put it, “The relative burden of student loan debt is greatest for households in the bottom fifth of the income spectrum, even though members of such households are less likely than those in other groups to attend college in the first place.”

And many of those graduates can’t find work or are underemployed, and they struggle to pay back their own personal mountain of debt.

A January report from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity found that “about 48 percent of employed U.S. college graduates are in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests requires less than a four-year college education.” That number included 37 percent in occupations requiring no more than a high school diploma.

For example, the report pointed out that “in 1970, fewer than 1 percent of taxi drivers and 2 percent of firefighters had college degrees, while now more than 15 percent do in both jobs.”

And yet, this country needs a more knowledgeable work force to be competitive. While the number of college graduates in America is increasing, that number is growing even faster in some other countries. And, as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development noted in 2011, “The U.S. is the only country where attainment levels among those just entering the labor market (25- to 34-year-olds) do not exceed those about to leave the labor market (55- to 64-year-olds).”

Our national educational aspirations and the debt crisis that they’re creating are colliding. We are on an unsustainable track. This will not end well.

Well, it’s working out great for the MOTU.  Demand a college degree for a file clerk job, saddle the young with crushing debt, and you have a docile, controllable work force too terrified to lose a job to organize or complain.  What’s not to love?  Here’s Ms. Collins:

Whenever talk turns to gun control in Congress, lawmakers feel compelled to mention their love of weaponry.

“I’m probably one of the few who have a pistol range in my backyard,” said Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont on Thursday, as he led a meeting of the Judiciary Committee on gun legislation.

“I have an AR-15,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, referring to the nation’s best-known assault weapon.

“I’m not going to do anything illegally with it,” Graham added. There were no audible sighs of relief from the audience, but I am sure everybody was glad to have the reassurance.

People, do you think Congress is actually going to do anything about gun violence in the wake of the Newtown shootings? Judiciary is going to vote on two big proposals next week: a ban on assault weapons and an expansion of gun purchase background checks. If the Democrats stick together, the bills can pass on a party-line vote. But to go any further, they need Republican support, and there wasn’t a whole lot of it in evidence this week.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chief sponsor of the assault weapons ban, seemed less than optimistic. “I want to thank those who are with me,” she said. “I don’t know that I can convince those who are not, but I intend to keep trying.” She looked exhausted. At one point, she referred to Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut as “Senator Delvanthal.”

“Senator Feinstein has been consistent. She is sincere, and she has the courage of her convictions and what more could you ask,” said Graham. This may have been an attempt at consolation. Perhaps he was only being incredibly patronizing by accident.

The public’s interest in reducing gun violence may not have abated, but some of the lawmakers seem to be trotting backward. After Newtown, Senator Joe Manchin, the conservative Democrat from West Virginia, said: “I don’t know anyone in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle.” He told CNN that he wanted to create a “dialogue that would bring a total change,” adding, “and I mean a total change.”

Manchin now says that anybody who took that to mean he was favoring some kind of ban on assault weapons totally misunderstood him. “I said everything should be on the table,” he explained in a phone interview. “Everything is on the table. I don’t agree with the things on the table, but they still have the right to put them on.”

On the plus side, the Judiciary Committee approved a modest bill raising the penalties for “straw purchasers” — people who buy guns in order to give them to someone barred from making the purchase, like convicted felons or Mexican drug runners. One Republican, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, voted for it. However, Senator John Cornyn of Texas expressed concern that it would “make it a serious felony for an American Legion employee to negligently transfer a rifle or firearm to a veteran who, unknown to the transferor, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Personally, I would rather not have American Legion employees negligently transferring guns to anybody. But then I am not trying to run for re-election in Texas without being primaried by the Tea Party.

The best hope for serious change involves fixing the background check law so that people who buy weapons at gun shows, online, in flea markets and other nonstore venues are included. Bipartisan negotiations seemed to fizzle this week, but Manchin, who was among those backing out, expressed confidence that something could still be worked out. And the assault weapons bill might have a little better chance if it was less complicated. (Feinstein’s bill lists 157 makes and models of guns that are prohibited.) It might be easier to just go with the part banning magazine clips that allow shooters to fire off 15, 30, 100 or more bullets without reloading.

You may be wondering what conceivable argument gun lovers could have about hanging on to those monster bullet clips. For the answer, let us turn to — yes! — Lindsey Graham. The senator from South Carolina wanted to know what people were supposed to do with a lousy two-bullet shotgun “in an environment where the law and order has broken down, whether it’s a hurricane, national disaster, earthquake, terrorist attack, cyberattack where the power goes down and the dam’s broken and chemicals have been released into the air and law enforcement is really not able to respond and people take advantage of that lawless environment.”

Do you think Graham spends a lot of time watching old episodes of “Doomsday Preppers?” Does he worry about zombies? That definitely would require a lot of firepower.

We should forgive every lawmaker who will go on the record as saying they refuse to support gun control because of the zombie threat. Otherwise, it’s pretty inexcusable.

Lindsey Graham doesn’t worry about zombies.  He may worry about his unfortunate constituents coming after him with torches and pitchforks, though.  (Particularly those of a duskier hue than he…)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: