When did debt become no big deal?

March 21, 2019

We are awash in debt, and owe at all levels.

Wallethub, a nonpartisan think tank that specializes in financial issues, has released its annual credit card survey. Americans now owe $1.03 trillion on their credit cards. The average household owes $8,788, up $224 from a year ago.

Student loan debt is $1.56 trillion. According to Student Loan Hero, the average payment (for those making the payments) is $393.

So, it should not surprise anyone that Americans are increasingly tolerant of government borrowing. Here in Illinois, the state pension system is between $134 billion and $250 billion short of its obligations. That’s according to the Bloomberg Financial Network. The difference between the two numbers is based on the financial markets. The better the markets do, the less the deficit is.

But the new governor’s solution to the shortfall was somewhat short itself. He would short part of the state’s payments and borrow the difference in bonds — essentially passing part of the debt, plus interest, on to the next generation.

Meanwhile in Washington, the projected federal government deficit is $1 trillion, on top of $22 trillion already owed.

The Wallethub survey shows people do not feel good about debt, but there are generational differences. Young people are 35 percent more likely to ring up debt for what they admit are “frivolous” purchases. We want it now, and we are willing to borrow to get it. Women are less embarrassed by owing money. Millennials are twice as likely to flee the country to get out of debt. A third of us would do “anything” to get out of debt.

Then again, why should we expect the government to show fiscal restraint, when we show so little of it ourselves. The government, it seems, reflects who we are.