The class of 2016 is graduating with the most student debt ever. This means the average college grad is about to embark on his or her professional life owing a lot of money—roughly $37,000. Forget the impact this has nationally, or even globally. How does it affect these young, bright, and hopeful individuals in their day-to-day lives? How does it impact the decisions they make? How does it influence where and who they live with?
Student loan debt is making it nearly impossible for graduates to live out the ultimate American dream: owning a home. About 65% of young adults say homeownership and the American dream go hand-in-hand, and yet only about 36% are homeowners, compared to the national average of about 64%. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the number of millennial homeowners has dropped 10% in the past seven years.
As home ownership gradually becomes a milestone of the distant past, young people are foregoing the idea altogether and relying on alternatives like renting, living with a roommate, or even moving back home. In fact, a 2015 Pew study found that 26% of young adults live with their parents.
“I can’t afford a home in Santa Clara, where I live,” Cody Hounanian, who moved in with his parents post-graduation said. “I think it’s crazy because my parents could afford a home and now ten years later I'm an adult and I can’t afford a home in the same place where my parents live. That’s just nuts!” Hounanian is the digital director for Student Debt Crisis, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding solutions to paying for higher education.
“My biggest fear in this student loan debt crisis is not being able to live my life as a young adult,” 25-year-old recent graduate Demeshia Jackson said. “I just feel like my reputation as an American has been screwed.”
This young generation of debtors has other priorities, like success in the workforce. But for some, the burden of student loans is completely debilitating.
“I'm not really even thinking about buying a house or a car, or having a family, or potentially moving somewhere or travelling,” Jackie Krowen, 32, said. “I feel like I'm treading water at all times, and just making sure I'm paying my bills.” Krowen still owes more than $160,000 in student loans.
According to Student Loan Hero, an online tool for borrowers, roughly 43 million Americans today are living with student loan debt. But it’s not only affecting homeownership, it’s also preventing individuals from starting families.
“I think the most difficult thing about not being able to get a home and start a family right now is that we're not young,” Carolyn Chimeri said. “I mean, I'm 29 years old; he's 30 years old, and we, at this point in our life, should feel like we are settling down, and we can't yet.”
There’s no question student loan debt is an inhibiting factor to kickstarting the average young adult life these days, but several state-funded programs are hoping to break the trend by providing viable solutions to those in debt.
Tanisha Wilcox, a 35-year-old single mom to two teenage boys, turned to Maryland’s You’ve Earned It student loan initiative, which, “helps reduce the overall housing expense for borrowers.”
“It was important for me to own a home because I wanted to build personal wealth,” Wilcox said. “ I wanted to have more space for my sons.”
The state-run program assisted Wilcox so that she could own a home to raise her family—something that would otherwise be a major challenge for a young, single mother in debt.
Amanda Paulus used the Ohio Finance Agency’s Grants for Grads program to help finance her mortgage when she first purchased her home as a young mother.
“I don't think that I would trade owning a home, because it does provide us with stability,” Paulus said. “I know that it's positively affected my child… she has roots.”
With student loan debt increasingly becoming one of the biggest obstacles for young people, the American dream of owning that “picket white fence” seems virtually unattainable, and is quickly fading. The American dream is not so much about owning as it is about not owing.
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