Opinion | Why you should care about the national debt

Melissa Coyle, junior biological sciences major

Alex Ballard and Wil Harris contributed to this column. Read the full column online.

Regardless of your political affiliation, the U.S. national debt affects all of us. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that by 2048, debt held by the public will reach a staggering 152 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).

The CBO estimates that rising federal debt could reduce the average income by as much as $6,000 per person.

If we fail to address our national debt, the federal government will find it difficult to make education, research, infrastructure and economic growth a priority. The national debt has become inferior to more immediate concerns.

As a result, money that could have been going toward infrastructure and research gone to putting out economic fires. The biggest challenge for our generation is not being able to invest in the future, have flexibility to respond to economic obstacles, or have the tools to approach a financial crisis.

The national debt is as old as America. For example, the one and only time the United States paid off its national debt was on Jan. 1, 1835. Right now, the national U.S. debt clock shows that our nation’s debt is soaring above $21.8 trillion.

Of more immediate importance to us, 92 percent of student debt is owed to the national government through federal loans. The average cost of tuition and fees for in-state residences at a public college is about $10,000, out-of-state residences are about $26,000 and private colleges are about $35,000, according to the College Board.

This is a conservative amount, considering there are private institutions – like Chapman – with tuition in the ballpark of $65,000 a year. Although some schools have tried to alter this reality, such as the New York University School of Medicine’s free tuition for incoming and current students, it is the exception rather than the norm.

Student loan debt should not be a rite of passage for young Americans, but it often is. This sad reality is further exacerbated by the fact that student loan debt is the only type of debt that cannot be erased via any type of bankruptcy.

So, why should we care? Young Americans have the most to gain – or lose – from how Congress addresses our fiscal challenges. The current generation of young Americans are saddled with debt, giving them fewer opportunities to invest in their future.

It is up to us to speak up and make reducing the national debt a priority. Students can do this through the outlet of the Up to Us campaign, a nationwide competition on college campuses that focuses on building a sustainable economic and fiscal future.

Chapman students can show their commitment to addressing the national debt by signing the campaign’s pledge. These signatures encourage our elected officials to take action. Our representatives should know that we are aware of these critical issues and demand action.

Money that is spent on keeping the national debt at bay could be spent on other priorities, like growing the economy. The Peter G. Peterson Foundation predicts that 10 years from now, the national debt will be the third largest category of the federal budget, just after Social Security and Medicare. It is currently the fourth largest category of the federal budget, with $229.2 billion allocated to interest on the debt.

But there is hope. There are motivated young Americans who are collaborating to create a better economic future. Our voices are loud and our strength is mighty. We can create change in our country. We can reverse the financial burdens that prior generations have left behind. We can do it because we are a part of the solution. It is up to us.