The Occupy Wall Street movement is a big tent of concerns and deliberately so. Keeping the flaps open draws in as many people in as possible, even if it does prevent the movement from issuing a list of demands.
But a visit to its Manhattan base in Zuccotti Park quickly reveals that a binding hardship for many of the younger protesters is their student debt. It’s an impression strengthened by “ We are the 99 Percent”, a slogan invented by the movement, and the address of a website that’s an online home for hundreds of people’s stories. Debt taken on to pay for a university education is a common theme and complaint.
We know how disastrously Americans’ love affair with mortgage debt ended. Three years and an anaemic recovery later, questions are being raised about an accumulation of student debt that some forecast will exceed $1trillion (£637bn) for the first time next year. The New York Fedput the total at $845bn at the end of the second quarter.
It’s not just those in the Occupy Wall Street movement asking the questions. Student loan delinquency, or late payments, has been climbing this year and was at 6.10pc in October, according to data from Equifax and Moody’s Analytics. Although default rates have eased over the past couple of months, economists at Moody’s expect them to rise again next year as jobs remain hard to come by.
Though few are suggesting that student debt is another time bomb ticking under America, there’s concern that a rise in defaults will prove another drag for the recovery. A survey by Rutgers University earlier this year of people who graduated between 2006 and 2010 voiced the anxiety that a university degree may no longer pave the way to relative prosperity in the way that it has done for the past half- century. Although a very small proportion of those questioned regretted getting a degree, under half expect to be better off than their parents.