Van Jones: Good Job Kids

Good job, millennials, says erstwhile green jobs czar Van Jones. Young people won the student loan interest rate fight, proving the strength of grassroots activism. This might be a little overstated.

According to a piece Jones wrote for the Huffington Post:

Four months ago, nearly everyone thought the interest rate on Stafford student loans was going to double — and that there was nothing anyone could do about it.

Republicans in Washington were beating the drums of austerity, trying to convince Americans that everyone, except the ultra-rich, should be tightening their belts. Common beltway wisdom held that students were going to be sacrificed — especially since their lobbying sway in Washington D.C. is far from overwhelming.

And yet, somehow, by sticking together and gathering support though social media and advocacy groups, they were successful! As Jones puts it:

But Washington wisdom doesn’t always account for an outside game. And when everyday Americans stand up and fight for something they believe in, they often win.

Well yes, students and young people achieved their goal, but let’s keep this goal in perspective.

The interest rate on subsidized Stafford student loans was 3.4 percent. Under the law in place the rate would automatically increase to 6.8 on July 1 without Congressional action. This low rate, however, only applied to Subsidized Stafford loans issued to undergraduate students for the 2011-12 school year. All loans issued earlier had higher rates. The new rule only extended the 3.4 rate another year.

Third- and fourth-year college students could borrow a maximum $5,500 at the 3.4 percent interest rate under the law and under the one-year extension. So the most anyone saved as a result of the extension of the 3.4 percent interest rate was $9 a month (the average is more like $6).

Now, granted, any effort that results in compromise, real bipartisanship, and keeping college costs down is commendable, but calling this a major achievement is patronizing. It just didn’t help anyone very much.

Jones might be right that the low interest rate extension indicates that “grassroots pressure still works and we proved it,” but this indicate that grassroots pressure has a long way to go. Jones:

All of our organizations were firing on all cylinders, and it worked. We proved in this fight that millions of Americans are willing to stand up and fight for the American Dream. With that dream under attack by billionaires and bankers, it is more important than ever that we come together to organize on behalf of everyone’s dreams. When we fight, we win, and this time– we won.

Yea, we won. We won $9 a month. Go out and buy yourself an extra half beer this weekend.

Or maybe just get some sleep; you’re going to need a lot of energy to enact real change.

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