The Millennial generation and increasingly it appears, Zoomer generation is in the words of Don McLean’s American Pie, “a generation lost in space, with no time to start again.” Owing to the facts of a declining standard of living, stagnant and declining wages, increases costs for basic necessities, less time than ever before to spend owing to increased work responsibilities and demands, less money to spend on personal development or leisure, and the silent death of community replaced by individual pursuits that give the feel of community without the presence of it, there is a general sense of hopelessness and misery that has come over many of them. Some have done very well, but most are floundering with no hope of a better future.
But perhaps one of the largest reasons why people feel hopeless is because many Millennials, at the insistence of their families, pursued higher education degrees. Most of these people took out large amounts of student loan debt to do so, and it so happens that it was the same Boomer and Gen X generations who sent their kids to college who also had the laws changed so that student loan debt cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. This lead to the proliferation of student loans because the enforcement arm of the government to garnish wages and force students to pay if need be for their rest of their lives, bills incurred in their late teens and early twenties was their insurance. Universities immediately raised tuition prices, and thus began the spiral into forty, fifty, sixty, and even for some now seventy-thousand dollar bills for just one year of learning the ABCs, 1-2-3s, and to drink oneself into oblivion in a room with a bunch of other drunks.
But the party always ends, and eventually those bills have to be paid back. Due to the economic factors above, largely driven by the financialization of the economy for the benefit of the extremely rich, the average man and certainly the poor are forced to take lower and lower paying jobs with less hope of a better life. If one has very large bills at the start of life that one can never successfully pay off or that occupy a large portion of one’s income, it is impossible to save money or purchase other items such as a home, cars, and sometimes even rent an apartment or buy food. If one gets married or has a family, the problems only compound.
But within every crisis, there is always an opportunity, and one that works out very well for the US military. Shoebat.com has reported how military recruiting numbers have fallen and that the government is looking to increase those number by any means they can do so, as while a draft has been considered, it would not bear well for the general public.
However, for 2019, the military reports that recruiting goals have been achieved due to the targeting of Millennials who, having largely a sense of listlessness and no sense of a future, are turning to the military for a hope of a better life largely for the payments that the military offers that while they can be used to pay to attend college after service, such fund also can be used to pay off student loans incurred from past college bills.
The situation with debt and the willingness of people to go into the Armed Forces has lead the head of Army Recruiting Command Maj. Gen. Frank Muth to attribute the success in meeting the current year’s recruitment numbers to America’s crippling student debt crisis according to a story from Vice Magazine.
While the Department of Defense’s 2019 budget is $686 billion, that number is less than half of the collective student debt in America, which surpassed $1.5 trillion this year. “One of the national crises right now is student loans, so $31,000 is [about] the average,” Muth told reporters. “You can get out [of the Army] after four years, 100 percent paid for state college anywhere in the United States.” (source)
This marks a change in the approach for enlistment, because traditionally speaking, the military has been seen as either an outlet for the poor and those in hopeless scenarios, or for those with a strong sense of patriotism, nationalism, or a sense of duty to country and community. However, the student debt crisis coupled with deep changes that have taken place in American society prompted an entire re-orientation on the part of the military to the recruitment process that virtually abolished the previous approach. Instead of becoming the hope of the poor and miserable, or the chance to be an “American hero,” the military is now presenting herself as the savior of the perpetually-indebted and hopeless student-turned-low wage earner from the debt situation they are locked into
The Army’s new recruiting strategy relies, in part, on social media messaging, like this tweet from Army recruiters in Chicago:
“#PleaseAWomanIn5Words (or man). I’ll pay your student loans! #ArmyTeamChicago”
The approach has naturally provoked a strong reaction from many people, some who note that this is merely a tactic to entice enrollment so that the US can continue her current plan of foreign military occupation in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other areas around the world. Likewise, some have pointed out that the student loan debt has become a source of “social control” by which the indebted will do anything to escape from the debt and consider options they had not before, including risking their own lives in the military.
Thomas Gokey, an organizer with the Debt Collective, an organization of activists working toward debt cancellation, also believes that the Army’s use of offering help with student debt in exchange for enlisting is harmful. “Debt is a form of social control,” he said. “You can force people to do all kinds of things if you put them in debt first, including waging unjust wars, killing and hurting other people, and risking [their] own life and limbs.” Gokey also points out that colleges often benefit immensely from the GI Bill financially, giving them incentive to support recruitment on campus.
Asked if he thinks the military’s recruitment strategy is ethical, Gokey said, “Since when has the U.S. Army cared about ethics?”
The debt situation causes one to wonder if the student loan debt crisis was not manufactured years ago all along for this purpose, with the anticipation that military planners were anticipating that the trend of people shieding away from military service would continue to grow, and there was likely no way to stop it unless they could create a crisis serious enough that would virtually force enrollment into the ranks.
While one can debate if this was the purpose or not, for practical purposes the fact remains that the technique worked, and one can expect to see more of this being used in the future, especially as the US struggles to maintain her global military presence and prepare for a coming conflict.