Five years after Wall Street crashed the economy by irresponsibly securitizing and peddling mortgage debt, the financial industry is coming under growing scrutiny for its shady involvement in student loan debt.
Over the last 50 years, our nation's productivity tripled. The Dow Jones industrial average ballooned over the same period, growing from an average of 1,000 in 1970 to between 10,000 and 14,000 over the last decade. There are more billionaires and millionaires alive today than there were during the last 100 years combined. We can process, send, and retrieve information at a speed unthinkable even two decades ago. The typical middle-class family can point to more than one car in the garage and multiple television sets in the house. We have more stuff, and more people have this stuff than ever before.
As our nation's economic crisis spreads and trillions of dollars are disbursed to keep the banks afloat, it's easy to forget that the catastrophe began with the peddling of a toxic retail-credit product: adjustable-rate sub-prime mortgages. Fueled more by demand from Wall Street than by demand from homebuyers or homeowners, a vast army of unregulated mortgage brokers barreled through down-on-their-luck neighborhoods offering salvation via cash-out refinancing in the form of exploding adjustable-rate mortgages. Contrary to popular perception, the majority of these mortgages weren't taken out by speculative investors or even by middle-class families fulfilling their aspirations for ever-more home on an ever-shrinking income.
As health-care costs continue to climb, the trend to more "cost sharing" continues, and the ranks of the uninsured keep swelling, more and more Americans are finding that paying for medical care means going into debt. The latest study by the Commonwealth Fund found that one out of five Americans have medical debt -- a population that includes many individuals with health insurance. In fact, nearly two-thirds of people who reported being in debt or having problems with medical bills had health insurance at the time the bill was incurred. Medical debt doesn't discriminate by race or class either, though like other economic forces, it disproportionately impacts lower-income individuals and individuals of color.