I am a USAF disabled veteran who served from 1979 to 1983. I have a bachelor’s in Social Work, and have a few other professional certifications, however I have had to be on disability for severe chronic pain since 2002. Student loan debt has been an extremely oppressive burden in my circumstances for decades now – and no way out of it unless my student loan debt is forgiven.
Back in the late 1980s, I went back to college to see about getting a degree to enhance my job skills. I was a single mom back then, now my kids are grown. I could not get along on a Pell Grant alone, so I had to take out student loans. Life circumstances interrupted my educational process in 1991-92 and I had to stop college and go back to work at pretty much minimum or low wage jobs. I had to put my student loans into financial hardship forebearance, and due to cost of living expenses and just making ends meet from month to month, I had to keep the student loans in forebearance. I believe the original amount borrowed back then while attending University of Nevada, Las Vegas was perhaps $20,000. Because I couldn’t afford payments, the interest kept ticking away like a taxi meter.
In 1998, I resumed my educational process at University of California, Sacramento. I really needed a career change for health reasons – a back injury resulting in chronic pain. I also suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands – USAF service-connected disability. I went for a social work degree. I finished my degree, but then found that most social work jobs at the bachelors’ level pay little more than what I earned without a degree. There were student loan forgiveness programs for some careers, but social work was not one of them. I could not figure out why as social workers work with and manage problem populations for city, county, state or national bureaucracies. It’s important work, it needs a college degree program to prepare for. Yet the bureaucratic network we work within is also part of the same bureaucratic network that set up student loans to be exempt from bankrupcy, when bankrupcy is meant to relieve the weight of crushing debt and give people a new start. At the very least, social workers who provide a valuable public service should have all or at least part of their student loans forgiven.
Since graduating from California State University, Sacramento, I have worked two different social work jobs paying me $10.00 per hour and the hours of the jobs were not even 40 hours a week. Above the minimum wage at the time, but still poverty level wages, inadequate to provide enough to live on, let alone pay back loans. Economic stress and hard work contributed to a breakdown in my back, resulting in me applying for and finally getting onto social security disability (SSDI). I have been on SSDI since fall of 2002. I’ve been trying to work on getting back to work on a work-for-myself basis with the help of Colorado’s Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. With my chronic back problems, I need to be in charge of how I arrange my work days, so I can make sure my back is not over-stressed by too much sitting or too much other damaging activity – I live with pretty intense chronic pain on a daily basis, especially in the mornings. I would like to do meaningful work with people, and I’m focusing on certifications trauma recovery, which I understand as I’ve gone through significant trauma in my own life and understand post-traumatic stress (PTSD). I hope to either supplement my SSDI enough to get some vital health and dental care I’ve been doing without for years now, or perhaps make enough of a living to perhaps get off disability, but I’m not sure at this point how it will all turn out or how much money I can make given my physical issues.
I have never made enough money in my work life as an adult to pay on my student loans. But they sit out there in my name, the interest continuing to tick up, up, up like a taxi meter, compounding and compounding until the amount I owe today far exceeds the original amount borrowed. At nearly 60 years of age today, I know, short of winning some lottery, I will never be able to pay back these loans in my lifetime.
I will go to my grave with these unpaid. But the oppression of this student loan debt, now at a total of over $150,000.00 that I can neither have forgiven nor discharge in bankrupcy is crushing. Trying to buy a vehicle to get around in (no way could I afford a new one, I have to look at used, but with the student loan debt forcing my debt ratio way up, even though I keep them in hardship forebearance to avoid them going into default, I can’t get financing. The same for buying a modest home. I get HUD Section 8 rental assistance and there is a program that might permit me to buy a modest home under Section 8, but the debt ratio still shows as too high from the student loans. My only real hope for a home of my own that I might be able to own free and clear would be a used RV, then I’m still going to have to pay to rent a space somewhere. Not sure how that’s going to happen either, but it’s on my wish list.
I’m quite sure if someone who really had money, like a career bringing in $50,000 a year or more, was suddenly reduced to the way I’ve had to live on such meager means for years and years now, they would find it absolutely intolerable… in daily chronic pain, little to no extra money for the kinds of therapies that have the best chance of alleviating that pain and giving me back a better quality of life, and no way financially for me to better my living situation.
This is what student loan debt has done to my life and it continues on and on. While I’m sure there are a few people who scam to evade their debts when they really could pay them back, I’m absolutely not one of them. I have been living on poverty-level wages my entire adult life, as a single mom, then alone once they were grown. Unable to make payments on my student loans, I’ve watched years and years of interest metastasize this debt into a monstrous amount, helpless to do anything about it, without being able to apply bankrupcy to it. It sits out there in my credit files, sabotaging everything I might be able to do to to improve my life the least little bit in an economic way.