US Student Debt Just Hit a Mind-Bending Milestone—So We Made This Animation

Can we afford to cancel our tab? Watch.

One point seven trillion. That’s the amount of outstanding student debt in the United States—for now.

But don’t blink: That number is ballooning even as you read this sentence. Since the Great Recession took hold in 2008, student debt has been among the fastest-growing types of debt for everyday Americans. It’s growing faster than mortgages, auto loans, and credit card debt.

And because we live in polarized nation, we can’t agree on what to do about it. Republicans generally want to stay the course, which is to say, let the debtors sink or swim without any additional lifelines. Meanwhile, student debt is top-of-the-mind for Democrats, who are struggling to reach some kind of consensus in the weeks leading up to Joe Biden’s inauguration. Biden supports modest debt forgivenessnamely $10,000 per borrower. (With more than 40 million people eligible, the cost of that plan would be north of $400 billion.) But progressive leaders don’t think that’s nearly enough. The familiar voices of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have called for a much bolder plan: the wholesale cancellation of, if not all, then most student debt.

The costs will be enormous for any action, or lack thereof, and these unfathomably large figures are anything but human-scale. But we know a thing or two about visualizing extreme sums of money. For a sense of just how much is involved here, and how it compares with other mind-blowing sums—by comparison, $1 million per day since the birth of Jesus adds up to a measly $737 billion—watch our animation above. It’s our largest visualization to date.

For the millions of folks out there struggling with student loans, viewer discretion is advised.

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We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

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