Richard Fowler: Coronavirus stimulus — this will help millennials the most

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Let’s face it, millennials like myself have had adulting pretty rough. Many of us graduated from college during the Great Recession. We were faced with the unholy trinity of skyrocketing student loan debt, bleak job prospects and the astronomical cost of housing.

And yet, we persisted. With help from our family and the once-booming economy, we were finally able to snag that dream job, manage our student loans and put a little money away for a down payment on a house.

Well, that was before the coronavirus pandemic. Now, we are back where we started — struggling to make ends meet. We, just like other population subgroups, are dealing with layoffs, pay cuts and a crashing stock market.

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We’re also dealing with another big problem: student loan payments.

As Congress reaches agreements on relief for small businesses and other sectors of the economy, let’s hope our lawmakers show love to a generation that has endured so much economic pain.

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Millennials should not have to worry about student loan payments at a time when they should be focused on their health and safety, and that of their families and the community at large. Let’s be real, freeing up cash that gets paid to the federal government anyway could provide the well-needed stimulus that both Congress and the president are seeking.

Now before we lament Congress’ unwillingness to truly help young professionals during these trying times, let’s give them a little bit of credit for the assistance provided in the CARES Act — the most recent coronavirus stimulus legislation.

Not only did this bill provide $1,200 to most Americans, but it also helped most federal student loan borrowers by temporarily pausing the interest and principal on loan payments through the end of September. The CARES Act also suspended involuntary wage garnishments and the reduction of tax refunds and other benefits for federal student loan borrowers who defaulted.

Sadly, in these trying times, those measures are far too short and way too late.

These are incredibly challenging times. Yet for millennials, this isn’t our first period of uncertainty. We were raised during an era of mass shootings. We watched 9/11 on our middle and high school classroom televisions.

Here is the truth: before this pandemic, millions of hardworking Americans — including many of the doctors, nurses and scientists we currently depend on to keep us alive — have been trapped in a hopeless purgatory of student loan debt. This is a struggle that is full of long hold times, international call centers, recorded lines and harassment from collection agencies, all because we decided to pursue the American Dream and get a higher education.

With the large amount of capital, and more importantly, liquidity needed to keep our economy afloat during this coronavirus-induced recession, let’s hope that our elected leaders in Washington, D.C., see the value in some form of student loan debt forgiveness.

To make this clear, let’s review the envelope math:

  • According to the U.S. Federal Reserve, the average monthly student loan payment is $393.  
  • PayScale estimates that the average college graduate with zero to five years of experience earns $48,400.  
  • That means our recent grads are spending about 10 percent of their income on student loan payments.  

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That’s a lot of money, especially if you are struggling to make ends meet during a pandemic.

If elected leaders in Washington truly cared about keeping our economy booming, they would go further than just stopping payments for a couple of months. With so many millennials currently unemployed or underemployed, this relief from Congress couldn’t come fast enough. Let’s face it, our generation’s economic stability is now in jeopardy.

A couple weeks ago, House Democrats proposed halting payments for the entire pandemic and forgiving up to $10,000 worth of debt per borrower upon its conclusion. This measure was defeated by House and Senate Republicans. However, with dates for the reopening of states and cities up in the air and an increasing number of laid-off Americans filing for unemployment daily, Congress should reconsider this measure and provide America’s largest and most diverse generation some economic relief.

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These are incredibly challenging times. Yet for millennials, this isn’t our first period of uncertainty. We were raised during an era of mass shootings. We watched 9/11 on our middle and high school classroom televisions. We also graduated from college during the Great Recession.

We understand how to handle ourselves, but can use some help. By canceling federally held student loans, our government can fix the mistake that continues to hold us back and drag down our economy. They can also create some long-term, grassroots economic stimulus in the process.

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