Student Debt: A Multi-Generational Issue

Billy McGrath
February 08 2019
Student Debt: A Multi-Generational Issuecover

Guardian recently released their 6th Annual Workplace Benefits Study. The report contained some eye-popping statistics. College tuition has increased nearly 400% since 1990, while the Consumer Price Index has risen at only a quarter of that speed. Tuition inflation has left 44 million Americans, or 29% of the workforce, in a mountain of student loan debt totaling $1.6 trillion. The debt crisis is having some harmful effect on the mental and financial well-being of workers.

Financial barriers

The student loan debt crisis has often been framed as a millennial problem. The issue runs far deeper, however, and spans across many generations. The largest percent increase in student loan debt over the last five years has been for those aged 60 to 69. The 72% increase in this senior population, which has mainly resulted from the rise of Parent PLUS loans, has led to many retirees seeing their Social Security payments garnished.

Moreover, 52% of Later Boomers -- those age 54-60 -- state that college debt is a major barrier to meeting their financial goals, more than any other age group. Student debt is preventing them from adequately saving for retirement or affording comprehensive health insurance. Early millennials -- age 30-37 -- are the next highest group reporting major barriers from student debt. This group has seen a marked decrease in homeownership, with student loan debt at least partially to blame.

Debt causing major stress

The increased debt load is taking its toll on the mental health of many America, as well. Personal finances can be stressful for anyone. In fact, 43% of working Americans cite money as a major source of stress in their life. Looking at just those with student loan debt, however, that number rises to 69%. Furthermore, in just two years, there has been a 31% decrease in working Americans reporting “good progress” toward paying off college debt.

Student loan debt stress is harmful for both employees and employers. Financial stress has been shown to harm both the physical and mental well-being of debt holders. This leads to decreased engagement and productivity at work. Employees with debt also use company time to deal with personal finances.

Employer assistance

It is not just employees that are worried about their financial situations. In 2014, only 15% of employers said that improving their employees’ financial wellness was a top objective. That number has no risen to 70% in this year’s report. 

According to some industry experts, student loan assistance is the hottest benefit discussed at job and recruiting fairs. Recent graduates are consistently ranking repayment benefits as highly as 401(k). Helping employees repay their student loan debt can negate some of the harmful effects of financial struggles. Not only will employees save money, but their engagement and productivity levels will be improved. Learn more about how employers can help at

Billy McGrath
February 08 2019