Debt forces college grads to move back home

AP Photo In this 2011 photo, Gan Golan, of Los Angeles, dressed as the “Master of Degrees,” holds a ball and chain representing his college loan debt, during Occupy DC activities in Washington. Thousands of college graduates have had to move back home due to crushing student debt and the lack of job opportunities, especially in the career fields in which they spent four or more years studying.

Brian Mahoney, 24, of Collegeville, has had to bounce around from job to job while his bachelor’s degree collects dust. It’s the only thing he can do to get his life going while he lives at home with his parents and tries to get a handle on his out-of-control student loans.

“I’m kind of in the in-between mode,” he said. “I have a job that pays well, but does nothing for a career.”

He’s just one of thousands of college graduates who have had to move back home due to crushing student debt and the lack of job opportunities, especially in the career fields in which they spent four or more years studying.

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In a recent study published in March 2014 by the Economic Policy Institute, the unemployment rate of workers under the age of 25 is at a staggering 14.5 percent, double the overall employment rate of 6.7 percent.

“Since the unemployment rate of young college graduates remains significantly elevated, the Class of 2014 will join a sizable backlog of unemployed college graduates from the last five graduating classes (2009 to 2013) in an extremely difficult job market,” the report says.

John Shields, 25, of Upper Darby, has had to get by through working retail jobs while living with his parents and unable to find the job in his field after graduating in 2011 with a double bachelor’s in English and communications from Immaculata University.

“It’s tough,” he said. “I’ve sent out a lot of resumes with little response. I have had a few interviews here and there, but nothing had amounted to anything concrete.”

The EPI also reported 16.8 percent of college graduates are underemployed. Those who fall in that category are people who are jobless and hunting for a job, working part-time because they can’t land a full-time job or want a job and looked for the past year before giving up.

As far as college graduates between the ages of 22 to 27 working in jobs which don’t even require a degree, well, that’s at 44 percent.

“It’s frustrating,” Shields said. “You live under this shroud of jobs being readily available for you once you graduate and then it doesn’t happen and it’s really a dose of harsh reality.”

With the amount of student loan debt graduates have accumulated, having jobs which are low paying or part-time isn’t allowing young adults the chance to “spread their wings” and start their lives on their own.

Mahoney, who graduated in 2012 from Kutztown University with a B.A. in secondary education English, feels the heavy weight of his loans coming down on him.

“After I graduated, I couldn’t find any place to live under the budget of student loan debt and not finding the perfect job,” he said. “I had to make some alternative career choices.”

Mahoney was able to move back out, but only under the support of an agency, which paid the rent for him, but it only lasted for six months before he returned home again because even that wasn’t feasible with the loans.

Tuition costs at colleges have continued to increase despite the economy’s slow growth. The Survey of Consumer Finances showed that in 2010, one out of five households had student debt and the average amount was $26,682.

In the same report, it showed 10 percent of the households owed $61,895 or more.

“Student loans are a ball and chain,” Mahoney said. “It’s like you’re blindfolded signing all these papers for loans. The ideal of an education was just lost with the weight of reality.”

According to researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, more than 30 percent of people with student loans which were not in deferment or forbearance were 90 days or more past due on payments in the fourth quarter of 2012.

It’s a frightening reality for graduates as they attempt to break out from home and begin a life, but find themselves already in mounds of debt they have to dig out of before it can happen.

“I’m scared [about the future],” Mahoney said. “You have to be persistent and mask the fear, but it’s just really, really daunting.”