“I want you to act as if the house is on fire. Because it is.” —Greta Thunberg
The US economy is awash in debt.
- As of the fourth quarter of 2018, household debt in the US totaled $13.54 trillion. The largest portion of this is mortgage debt, which totalled $9.12 trillion. [source]
- As of March 2019, total credit card debt is $1.057 trillion, which is an average of $8,286 per household. The average debt per card-holding adult is $5,839. Much of it is incurred to pay healthcare costs. [source]
- As of February 2019, student loan debt is $1.56 trillion. This is held by 44.7 million people, with an average debt of $29,800 and average monthly payment of $393. $101 billion of it is in default. [source]
- In the first quarter of 2019, auto loans totaled $1.28 trillion. About 6.5% of these loans were 90 days or more delinquent in February of this year. That’s around 7 million people. [source]
This explosion in personal debt is not normal or healthy and is hobbling an increasing number of people. A state of de facto peonage is emerging. The levels of inequality in the US today are literally medieval (though peasants had it better when it came to days off: “Altogether there were about 80 days of complete rest with over 70 partial holidays, that is, about three months of rest spread over the year” [source]).
More and more people are struggling financially. According to National Payroll Week’s 2018 “Getting Paid in America” survey, 38% of respondents would find it “very difficult” to “meet [their] current financial obligations if [their] next paycheck were delayed for a week” and 31% would find it “somewhat difficult.” Those who answered “not very” or “not at all” difficult totaled 28 1/2% together. If this situation is not yet “dire,” it sure is headed in that direction.
When securing necessities becomes so arduous, then stress, anger and depression result, and from these, conflict, violence and self-harm.
Just at a time when we need to come together and work collectively for change, more and more of us are distracted by mere survival and, failing at even that, are sliding into addiction, disease and dysfunction. At some point, society reaches a breaking point, and under such circumstances is unlikely to instantly evolve into, say, an enlightened socialist utopia. Not without first passing through a brutal period of ramped-up state authoritarianism, anyway, and I, for one, ain’t gonna wish for that.
The pressure needs to be released. Space must be made for something new. One thing we have to do is to forgive all the debts.