What Occupy Wall Street Is Really About

DebtMan

Occupy Wall Street, the left-wing campaign to protest economic inequality and corporate greed, is really mostly about student debt, according to Ezra Klein.

As he writes at the Washington Post, the protesters tell similar stories of low wages and high debt levels:

These are not rants against the system. They’re not anarchist manifestos. They’re not calls for a revolution. They’re small stories of people who played by the rules, did what they were told, and now have nothing to show for it. Or, worse, they have tens of thousands in debt to show for it.

College debt shows up a lot in these stories, actually. It’s more insistently present than housing debt, or even unemployment. That might speak to the fact that the protests tilt towards the young. But it also speaks, I think, to the fact that college debt represents a special sort of betrayal. We told you that the way to get ahead in America was to get educated. You did it. And now you find yourself in the same place, but buried under debt. You were lied to.

Because that’s the thing with this particular economic downturn: it’s not everyone who’s suffering here. It’s not even the case of the poor suffering a lot and the rich suffering a little, as one might expect. No, as Klein explains: “Wall Street caused this mess, and the government paid off their debts and helped them rake in record profits in recent years. The top 1 percent account for 24 percent of the nation’s income and 40 percent of its wealth.”

It’s actually very normal for young people to be relatively poor. It’s also fairly standard for lots of people to be unemployed during economic recessions. The more serious, and abnormal, problem here is that a lot of these people are heavily in debt, and not credit card debt. They’re faced with what was supposed to be the “good” kind of debt, student loans.

The average student debt in America is now $24,000. If one owns $24,000 and has no job, or even a rather low-paying job, making those payments is impossible. And these are people who, as Klein puts it, played by the rules, who did everything they were suppose to do.

Occupy Wall Street protests are deliberately modeled on the Tahrir Square protests in Egypt back in February. The goals of the Occupy Wall Street protests are less distinct but in Egypt, remember, the protestors were angry because they’d graduated from college and couldn’t find jobs. In the United States the protestors have graduated from college, can’t find jobs, and owe money for those educations. They owe money to banks.

Does this make sense now? [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer