Report: 1 in 5 U.S. Households Carry Student Debt

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 27 2012 1:50 PM

Roughly 20 Percent of American Households Are Carrying At Least Some Student Debt

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According to reports, one-half of recent college graduates with bachelor's degrees are underemployed or jobless

Photograph by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.

The Pew Research Center this week released a snapshot of the nation's student debt. In short, it's not a pretty picture. Roughly 1 in 5 American households either had outstanding student-loan debt or loans in deferment, according to data from 2010, the most current available. The 19-percent figure is particularly striking because it's up 4 points from 2007, and is twice what it was two decades ago.

When one drills down deeper into the report, it becomes clear that it is the youngest generation that bears the biggest burden. Among households headed by those 35 and younger, 40 percent have some form of student debt.

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The other two types of households that have the largest chunks of national student debt are those at the high and low ends of the gross income spectrum. If you were to divide American households into five groups, according to income, you would find that those in the bottom fifth account for 13 percent of the debt, while those in the top fifth owe 31 percent of it, according to Pew's math.

Pew's Richard Fry offers a little perspective on those numbers:

“While those at the upper end of the income scale are more likely than others to owe student loan debt, when one considers the resources that households have at their disposal to meet their debts, the relative burden of student loans is much greater for those at the lower end. In 2010 outstanding student debt was nearly a quarter (24%) of the household income of the lowest fifth of households by annual income. By comparison, households in the ninth decile of household income owed only 7 cents of student debt for every dollar of household income received, and those in the tenth decile (90 percent and higher) owed just 2 cents of student debt for every dollar of household income.”

The report also found that the average student loan balance increased from $23,349 to $26,682 between 2007 and 2010, while student debt as a share of household debt also grew from 3 percent to 5 percent over that same period.

You can read the full report (and check out a bounty of handy graphics) over at the Pew Research Center.

A.J. McCarthy is a Slate Video blogger.