To listen to Episode 6, visit the show page.
The transcript below supplements the United States of Debt, a Slate Academy. To learn more and enroll, visit Slate.com/debt.
Welcome to the sixth and last episode of the United States of Debt. I’m Helaine Olen.
Over the five episodes of our series, we’ve discussed why it’s so hard for Americans to escape debt. We talked about our growing student loan burden and the ongoing impact of the foreclosure crisis. We talked about piles and piles of credit card bills that people can’t seem to escape, and the endless medical bills that come in if someone gets ill.
After all that, it’s not hard to understand why Americans were so angry and so frustrated this election season.
“I have no faith in either of the two candidates, let’s say. ... I don’t believe anyone in Washington has our best interests at heart. … I voted for Bernie. … I’ll write his name in.”
“There’s not a lot of help for Americans, you know. It’s just like, the rich stay rich, and nobody else gets to get ahead. … It just costs so much. It just costs so much for doctors. It costs so much for insurance. It costs so much for medicine, for prescriptions.”
And now Donald Trump is going to be our next president. Where does that leave us?
At the beginning of the series, we talked about credit card debt. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, established by the Obama administration, helped a lot of people navigate the process. It also busted bad actors in the industry—for example, taking on Wells Fargo after the bank established more than 2 million fake accounts for its customers. Now Trump is threatening to gut the agency.
“Sources report the U.S. Financial Protection Bureau, already legally stalled after an October court decision, could find its powers scaled back by a Republican-led Congress and Donald Trump.”
“If Trump and the Republican Party try to turn loose the big banks and financial institutions so they can once again gamble with our economy and bring it all crashing down, then we will fight them every step of the way.”
As for student debt, it appears to be a mixed bag. Trump has claimed he would like to make changes to the income-based repayment plans. Those changes would include people paying more of their income, but at the same time, the debt would be written off in a shorter period of time.
But it seems likely that student loan forgiveness programs for people who attended dubious for-profit universities could be rolled back too.
And as for those medical bills, don’t expect much help at all. Trump has said he would like to roll back almost the entirety of the Affordable Care Act:
“Because Obamacare has to be replaced. And we will do it, and we will do it very, very quickly. It is a catastrophe.”
“We will stop the Obamacare madness. We’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare.”
Now Trump says he’s open to keeping some of the ACA. Who knows. After all, his pick for secretary of health and human services not only is against the ACA; he would like to voucherize Medicare, pushing seniors onto the insurance market.
Here’s Trump speaking on Fox News from April of last year.
They’re gonna cut Social Security. They’re gonna cut Medicare. They’re gonna cut Medicaid. … I’m the one that's saying I’m not gonna do that! I’m gonna make us so rich you don’t have to do those things.
Meanwhile, the foreclosure crisis rolls on.
“Across the nation, we saw the biggest month-to-month increase in foreclosures.”
“At 27 percent between September and October, that was the biggest increase we’ve seen going all the way back to August 2007 … when the last housing crisis started.”
The Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, was set up by the Obama administration to help homeowners who were struggling financially. It helped some, but not as many as was hoped. Nonetheless, it’s set to expire at the end of this year. Don’t expect it to be renewed by the incoming Trump administration.
It seems hopeless. But it’s not, as long as you stand up for your rights and get involved.
Write your local representatives and congresspeople. Better yet, call them. Remind them you exist. And get involved with interest groups campaigning for your rights.
Before I joined the Debt Collective, it was scary. It was depressing. I mean, there were times that I would just fall into a deep depression and couldn’t get myself out of it, because I felt like I’m never going to get out from the weight of these loans. And now that I’ve joined with the Debt Collective, I feel more empowered, because I know that I’m not alone … to then be able to change policy, and unite together, and point out, you know, the problems that are going on with higher education right now.
Let your friends and family know how debt affects you. Encourage them to become involved too. It’s going to be a long fight here in the United States of Debt.
In this episode you heard music from Kai Engel, Chris Zabriskie, and Kevin MacLeod.
I’m Helaine Olen. Jennifer Lai is our producer. Thank you for listening to the United States of Debt.