On Independence Day, we in the USA celebrate our country’s independence from England, and the freedoms we enjoy as U.S. citizens & residents. We like to say we’re the “greatest country in the world,” and that we have more freedom than the people of any other country. However, there are many kinds of freedom and independence; freedom from want; freedom from debt; freedom from addiction, bad habits and/or compulsive behaviors; freedom from mental illness and toxic relationships; freedom from ignorance, from superstition, and from religions that teach false, limiting or pathogenic ideas. I think it’s fair to say that many “Americans,” in “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” are – in one way or another – slaves or indentured servants to someone or something.
I am addicted to computer games – one of my favorite and least embarrassing in a list of what could be reasonably be called “bad habits and/or compulsive behaviors.” Many people I know have at least one of the following monkeys on their backs: debt; addiction to Facebook, junk food, cigarettes, or gambling; schizophrenia; and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
One of the most newsworthy and talked-about problems facing the USA now is opiate addiction. It’s hard to get hard statistics on addiction, but according to the National Center for Health Statistics, deaths from overdoses on prescription opioid pain relievers in the USA tripled between 2001 and 2014, from around 6,000 in 2001 to around 18,000 in 2014. Heroin overdoses during almost the same time span – 2001 to 2013 – quadrupled from around 2,000 in 2001 to around 8,000 in 2013. (See graphic, below.)
Consider the most recent reports about student loan debt:
- $1.26 trillion in total U.S. student loan debt
- 43.3 million Americans with student loan debt
- Student loan delinquency rate of 11.6%
- Average monthly student loan payment (for borrower aged 20 to 30 years): $351
- Median monthly student loan payment (for borrower aged 20 to 30 years): $203
- (Data via newyorkfed.org here and here and clevelandfed.org here.)
Credit card debt is also a huge problem. A headline on thestreet.com (March 2016) reads: “Credit Card Debt Is at Dangerous Levels.” The sub-headline says: “U.S. consumers are compiling credit card debt far faster than they can pay it down….” According to the Federal Reserve, revolving debt was $935.6 billion in December 2015, up 5.1% from December 2014, even though interest rates went up on average from 11.9% to 12.1% during the same period.
Current government programs and fiscal policy in the USA do not seem to be addressing #3. Perhaps pressure from “Democratic Socialist” presidential candidate Bernie Sanders will change that.