Darryl Washington sat across from me and threw out the figure as casually as if he were talking about the weather.
That’s how much money Darryl owes as he prepares to graduate from the University of Missouri-Kansas City next spring.
Enough to buy a car and slap a down payment on a house. Enough to jump-start a post-college life with some zip in his step and some hope in his heart.
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But Darryl didn’t appear too worried about that $80,000. Not that day anyway. He was more interested in talking about how to jump-start a career covering sports and how to land that first job.
We’ve all heard these stories about sky-high college debt. Nothing new there. Estimates suggest that student debt tops $1.2 trillion and that 41 percent of all undergrads have taken out loans.
But I know Darryl. He was in the first class I taught at UMKC. He was the kid who sat near the back with the great attitude, who turned in his work (mostly) on time and always had something to add to class discussion.
It just hit me when he said that. In your 20s, $80,000 is just a number. At 57, I know how long it’ll take to pay it off and how much sweat will go into those years.
I didn’t tell Darryl that during our lunch. Not on that day. He was focused on the future, and I wasn’t stopping him. But I did flash back to another moment years earlier listening to a prominent politician address a roomful of students.
His message: “Thanks for inviting me. But I don’t care what you all have to say about the issues these days. That’s because you guys don’t vote. So you don’t count.”
Boom. The room fell silent. This wasn’t the message they expected. But maybe it was one they needed to hear.
Here’s another number for you. In November, we had an election. The students in Darryl’s cohort, the 18- to 29-year-olds, made up 13 percent of the electorate. The 2014 figure for the 45-64 group? Triple it and add four — 43 percent.
So it’s no wonder why our federal budget skews toward older folks. A whopping 24 percent is set aside for Social Security and 14 percent more for Medicare.
Student financial aid? Try 1 percent.
Talk to young people these days, and they’ll tell you how they don’t feel connected to Washington or Topeka or Jefferson City. I once felt that way, too. But they are paying such a steep price.
Darryl, by the way, didn’t vote either.
To reach Steve Kraske, call 816-234-4312 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.