Student Debt: Allentown in the making


I am sure that that name may not ring a bell to most of you, but today the men and women who were born after the 60s are living it. Billy Joel immortalized its status and set the tone for every America struggling under a mounting see of college debt.

The song is the anthem of our age.

Well we’re waiting here in Allentown
For the Pennsylvania we never found
For the promises our teachers gave
If we worked hard
If we behaved

I remember growing up a child of the 80s and early 90s. Every class was the same after the 5th Grade. “Work hard in your classes. Be mindful of your teachers in class, so you can be admitted to a good college and have a good job with benefits.”

And so we worked hard because we had dreams of being lawyers, doctors, and computer technicians. We wanted to be engineers, and nurses, and even a few of us wanted to be astronauts. And we knew that the path to the high paying jobs (or so we thought), went through a college or university.

So the graduations hang on the wall
But they never really helped us at all
No they never taught us what was real
Iron and coal
And chromium steel
And we’re waiting here in Allentown

The education system of our era showed disdain for the manual jobs such as electrician, plumber or any other job that didn’t go through a secondary school. We were taught to look down on those jobs. You wanted to be an engineer, not an electrician; the physicist was far more a career goal instead of a plumber.

Unfortunately, the jobs that are showing steady growth are those jobs.

The jobs that pay. An electrician that is in his apprenticeship can make as much as $19 dollars an hour. The average college student at the same time is paying for his or her education. The electrician that has finished his or her apprenticeship makes on average $50k a year, while his college friend who looked down on the blue collar worker is lucky to make in the $30k range.

Every child has a pretty good shot
To get at least as far as their old man got
But something happened on the way to that place
They threw an American flag in our place

We cannot truly blame the generation before us. They were preparing us for what the leaders of yesterday thought the future would be like. The idea that every American would be a person that had the education and the skills to build a better tomorrow.

We were to live the American Dream. House in the suburbs, a nice car, the average nuclear family. Donna Reed or Judy Jetson. It became the American way of life to base success and self-worth by the diploma on the wall.

So now look at us.  According to CNBC, Roughly 45 million Americans carry student loan debt, and the average borrower owes at least $30,000. One in five owes more than $100,000. Over 80% of those aged 22 to 35 who haven’t purchased a house cite student loans as the primary factor, according to the National Association of Realtors; many are denied mortgages because of their debt-to-income ratio, and significant monthly payments can also threaten credit scores.

The doctors and lawyers; those of us that followed the career paths as that society and our parents demanded led to larger and more crushing debt. With rising costs of everything that is basic necessities that seem to outpace our salaries, we are on a never-ending mouse wheel to get ahead.


Our society works on the idea of consumer growth and service industries. The nation views new home sales as an indicator of economic growth. The houses are being built, but many stands empty.  What happens as this trend of debt continues as new constructions taper off?

As new home sales decline, contractors that build those homes are no longer needed. The money that was spent in the community now dries up, calling retail and services to lose business. As they lay off workers or go out of business themselves the wheel starts to spin faster and go nowhere.

My Allentown is Orange, Texas, We are a sleepy little town on the Texas-Louisiana Border. We were built on lumber, shipbuilding and later oil and refineries. At the end of World War 2, we had as many as 60,000 inhabitants.  Since them the shipping industry has largely died, the chemical plants through automation require fewer workers today than a few years ago.

A loss of most of the good paying jobs caused smaller businesses to start to go under. Our last movie cinema shut down. We lost our hospital. The town is building franchise restaurants, but the jobs that the 21st century rely on have crawled away.

This is the modern face of America, a consumer economy that no one has the capital to consume with.

College debt is that albatross around the neck that we must address or the nation faces another depression.

Well I’m living here in Allentown
And it’s hard to keep a good man down
But I won’t be gettng up today

The choices are stark and clear. We must embrace apprenticeships for those careers that can benefit from it.  Blue collar jobs must not be looked down on by society and government.

We must either restructure existing student debt or forgive it all together. The money we lose here is nothing compared to economic collapse. It would make the 2008 recession look painless in comparison.

Finally, we need to find a way to reduce college tuition or end it. It is a small investment in our future compared to the cost if we do not.

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