Dissident economic statistician Matt Bruenig (previously) has parsed the latest numbers from the Survey of Consumer Finances, and brings us the news of the increased democratization of student debt: in 1989, only 16% of students and their families carried student debt — in 2016, it was 44%.
And it's not just that more people are carrying debt — they're carrying more debt. The eightieth percentile borrower had no debt in 1989, in 2016, they carried $22,000.
As Bruenig points out, expanding the burden of student debt to families with more political influence, and increasing the weight of that burden, is an unsustainable practice that will reach a breaking point, and soon: "These kinds of year-over-year increases in student debt levels are ultimately unsustainable. It is not possible for debt to perpetually grow faster than the capacity to repay it. Eventually something will have to give."
The trend here is the same. In 1989, the debt of the ninetieth percentile was 11.5% of their current income. By 2016, it was 109.7%. In 1992, the debt of the eightieth percentile was 3.9% of their current income. By 2016, it was 48.4%.
During the last decade, many thought that the student debt positions of young families were being driven by the effects of the Great Recession. But it is clear from the 2016 data that the problem remains: every year, more and more young people are taking on higher and higher levels of student debt.
Something Has to Give