Letter to the Editor: Don’t ignore the threat of the national debt


My name is Joseph Turner and I am the current Student Body Treasurer for our University. I am writing this piece to highlight, what I feel, is one of the largest threats facing our country and, specifically, our generation. This threat to our security and future prosperity is our national debt, which is about to reach a record $17 trillion.

As Treasurer, one of my responsibilities is to propose a balanced Activity and Service (A&S) fee budget to the student Senate. The State and University both mandate that our A&S fee budget be balanced. This simply means that we may not spend any more than we take in. The United States Congress and our federal government have no such regulations and consistently spend more than what is annually collected in revenue.

As college students, we are well aware of the economic challenges facing our generation. Rising college tuition is causing record student loan debt: about $27,000 on average per person. (There is estimated to be $1.2 trillion in student loan debt, which is more than the total credit card debt in this country, but that is the topic for another letter).

Our current national debt represents more than double that number per person: roughly $56,000 for every man, woman, and child in the United States. Unemployment for our age group remains in the double digits — about 11 percent — and statistics show that about half of all recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed. While the figures above may be alarming, the most threatening number to our American Dream is likely one you have not heard before: $200 trillion.

Our $17 trillion of national debt only refers to the amount of money our country has borrowed in the past –– not what we will need to borrow in the future. The true national debt ($200 trillion, and now known as the “fiscal gap”) includes the present value of unfunded future obligations of programs. It is a tab so large that it is beyond our generation’s capacity to pay, and is a real threat to the priorities we care about, no matter what our political affiliation and beliefs.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), on September 18th, released a report stating our national debt is currently at 73% of our country’s Gross Domestic Production (GDP) and by 2029 will reach 100%. The report also stated that, “The high and rising amount of debt that CBO projects … would have significant negative consequences for both the economy and the federal budget.” If Washington keeps kicking the can down the road by not addressing this problem, our generation will feel the drastic impact and our future could look something like what follows.

Investments in our future (education, research, infrastructure, etc.) will hit their lowest relative level on record by 2023 as interest payments on the debt approach $1 trillion per year. By 2031, every penny of federal revenue will just be enough to cover so-called mandatory spending, meaning spending on everything else must be borrowed, such as the entire Department of Defense. By 2033, the Social Security trust fund will run totally dry and the program will only be able to pay a fraction of its benefits. In sum, if we don’t address this problem soon, we’ll be left with more debt, higher taxes, fewer benefits, and a lower standard of living.

Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “The most significant threat to our national security is our debt.” We, as the generation that will inherit this problem, have the responsibility to take notice of this growing problem and to realize the potential detrimental effects it will have on our personal lives and the vitality of our great nation. We must stand up and voice our disgust at the emerging crisis and do all we can to reverse the effects and reality of our national debt.

We may not see eye to eye on how to fix this problem, but I hope we can all agree that this is a problem and the status quo is the worst option on the table. Every day our country puts off tough choices, the financial burden being placed on young people and future Americans grows, and this is unacceptable. That is why I am happy to welcome the “Generational Equity Tour” to campus October 22nd. The tour is organized by The Can Kicks Back (www.TheCanKicksBack.org) campaign, a nonpartisan group of young people that advocates for a fiscally sustainable and generationally equitable federal budget.

I hope you take the time out to attend the panel discussion on the national debt that will be hosted in the Student Union Auditorium on Tuesday October 22nd at 7:30pm. I have decided to host this event to provide my fellow students with a place to learn about this issue and to discuss how we might solve this problem. It is our generation that has a real stake in the debate about the federal budget and growing national debt. It’s time we start fighting for our future, together.

Joseph Turner — Student Body Treasurer

[email protected]