Monday, July 2, 2012

Economic Hardship and Reporting Project - The Ones We've Lost: The Student Loan Debt Suicides

The Economic Hardship and Reporting Project provided me with a grant several months ago to write an in-depth article about the student lending crisis. My editors were Barbara Ehrenreich and Gary Rivlin. Here's the piece. I hope you'll share with your networks, because this is the dark side of the student lending crisis and the public needs to be aware of how bad things have gotten for student loan debtors. This is a national emergency and it needs to be solved now.

Here's a snippet:

This story was produced by the independent Economic Hardship Reporting Project, co-edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Gary Rivlin.

One evening in 2007, Jan Yoder of Normal, Illinois noticed that her son Jason seemed more despondent than usual. Yoder had been a graduate student in organic chemistry at Illinois State University but after incurring $100,000 in student loan debt, he struggled to find a job in his field. Later that night, Jason, 35, left the family's mobile home. Concerned about her son's mood, Jan Yoder decided in the early morning hours to go look for him on campus, where a professor she ran into joined her in the search. The two of them discovered his body in one of the labs on campus and called campus police at 8:30AM. 32 minutes later, Jason was declared dead due to nitrogen asphyxiation.
 Read the rest of the story here


Anonymous said...

I can very much relate to this piece and thank you so very much for writing it.

I am only in the 4th year of my debt repayment and have many more to go. I have not deferred, defaulted, or even fallen behind on one student loan (or mortgage) payment, but I do work one full time job, one part time job, and pick up the odd job as opportunity arises. (None of these jobs are in my field.) I had a plan and it was well thought out and researched from a variety of angles and with it, I would go back to school and be in a new career field by the time I was 40 (I was 34 at the time). But, I did not foresee the variable of graduating at the onset of the financial collapse. So, here I am. I work a lot and keep telling myself that my life wasn't always like this and it won't always be like this.

I don't socialize or date, there's just no time (cut to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, "Hey, Dr. Jones, no time for love! We got company!"). How does one explain, "Oh, I really find you interesting, but I only have time to see you on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:30pm to 8:30pm." The lack of socialization only compounds the depression and feeling of hopelessness.

I refuse to saddle my retiring parents with my debt (they are tied in, but that is another story). So, I will continue to make the payments and climb out of the hole I have dug myself into and hope that one day (barring any unforeseen health or life complications), it really will end.

Until then, I leave you with the happiest moment I can report from last year. It was waking from a dream in which I had received some sort of "approval" or "release" from some entity to kill myself. In my dream I paused and thought, "But wait, you don't ascribe to a belief system," and then thought, "Oh well! Too late now!" and happily continued on with my suicide.

Thank you again for your compassionate article, please continue to collect data on this subject and know that your words made a connection, made a difference to a least person.


Anonymous said...


This article is simply amazing. It's about time the student loan/suicide issue gets made public. Well done.

Anonymous said...


While I admire your work, I think you embrace a "beggar" stance - we're begging for help. We are the targets of criminal activity. I probably don't have to tell you this: the market for a college degree is price-fixed by the federal government through student loans. In the private sector this is CRIMINALLY ILLEGAL - 10 years in jail on a Sherman Act violation and a criminal fine of up to 300 million. In fact it's what's known as a "per se" illegal act - meaning if the gov't can prove you did the act, no defense is allowed.

There's no meaningful price competition in the market for a higher education at all. The per student costs just goes northward - some States subsidize to mask that truth to the consumer by indirectly drawing out of the State residents pocket, including working students. Furthermore, the cost is price-fixed above a level where you can opt out by saving money for college. Because the poor, if they are to purchase the product at all, must purchase it on credit, they pay MUCH MORE for the very same degree than a rich kid whose parents can afford cash pay for the same product.

You have got your head where the sun don't shine if you think Congress or any President we elect is going to change any of that. A large portion of the private sector is propped-up through transfer payments to schools via student loans.

The Congress cares so much about interest rates? Bull. The debt ceiling hike included a provision to cut all subsidies effective this year for grad students for interest while in school in order to fund the pell grant expansion to college kids...this despite the fact that, for instance, law school tuition is increasing at 4 times the rate of undergraduate costs. That's your bipartisan solution.

The government caused all of this.

Unknown said...

So tragic and what's even worse is that there's no end in sight. Right now, I am sitting on about an $88K mountain of debt, by my math. And everyday, I kick myself for climbing that mountain. I make payments regularly, but it wasn't always that way; I found myself fighting and negotiating with my lenders on a weekly basis before finally buckling down and finding a method to repay (including through a default). However, I'd give my next paycheck to go back to the mid-to-late-90s and tell my teenaged self a) do better in high school, b) go to a community college first, and c) you can get just as good (if not better) of an education at a public school than the private (read: way more expensive) one you want to attend.

There have been a lot of sacrifices the last few years, and when I see reports of the average debt being about 1/4 of mine, I just sigh and hang my head, knowing I only have myself to blame. I think about how, if I had just $20-25K in debt, how I could've probably become a homeowner by the age of 25, give or take, or how many more vacations I would've taken. I've held down 2 jobs since 2008, and there are months where I'm barely able to pay the bills. And in the big picture, I still don't see much of an effect, thanks to the $88,000 or so mountain I started climbing 12 years ago. I have few regrets, except for that one.

Thank you for this article, for putting things in perspective for me. I don't know the mental anguish of those who committed suicide, and have no idea what they went through. Regardless, my hearts go out to their families.

A Terrified Law Student said...

When I see things like this, it reminds me of the movie "Idiocracy". Here we have educated people, such as the victim you described, who kills himself. These individuals have a lot they could contribute, but don't for various reasons. Many will not have children or families. And the world seems to be getting stupider and stupider as time passes.

As for me, although I have been somewhat 'suicidal' in my past, I am committed to not allow the educational system to end my life. I have lived too long now to waste it like that. I wish more people realized how precious life really is.

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that conducts a scholastic ability test in mathematics, announced the result of the survey asking 220 students to vote for the celebrities who seem to be good/bad at math.

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