Mr. President, I appreciate the words of the Senator from New York, and also his keen focus on these issues for the middle class, giving everyone a fair shot.
I rise today to talk about the problems of student debt in this country and the effects that it has on millions of Americans. I think we all know that it is not just students, as much as that is the first group we think about--students--it is also their parents. Those are the ones I hear from a lot, and how hard it is, and how they have that next kid coming.
While maybe they were able to patch together loans and some income to help one kid go through college, the second one comes along and it is incredibly difficult. They literally have this Sophie's choice about which kid they are going to send to college or what are they going to do with the third kid. It just should not be happening in America today.
I thank Senators BLUMENTHAL and BALDWIN for bringing us together on the floor, as well as Senators HARKIN, WARREN, and DURBIN for their leadership on this issue. In the United States we appreciate the value of education. We know it leads to higher-paying jobs, better health, and even longer lives. I know the value of education. My grandpa worked 1,500 feet underground in a mine in Ely, MN. He was not able to graduate from high school because when his parents died, the two oldest boys had to go to work in the mines. They were only 15 years old. That is what they did. They went to work in the mines. They were able to keep the entire family together.
The youngest girl had to go to an orphanage in Duluth for a while, and then they were able to bring her back. Those two oldest boys never got to graduate from high school, never went to college, and worked in the mines their entire life, worked underground at a very dangerous time in our country. When the sirens would go off, they would not know whose family member had been killed.
That is what my grandpa did. He wanted a better life for my dad. He literally saved money in a coffee can in the basement of their house so that he could send my dad to college. Then my dad went to college and became a newspaper reporter. My mom, during the same time period, growing up in Milwaukee during the Depression, ended up going to Milwaukee Teachers College and then came to Minnesota and was a teacher.
Here I am standing today on the Senate floor, the daughter of a teacher and a newspaper man and the granddaughter of an iron ore miner. It would not have happened without education. It would not have happened without my mom's parents struggling to make sure she went to college, and without my grandpa saving that money in a coffee can after working underground in the mines and never being able to go to school himself.
That is what I know about education. That is a story we hear again and again from people in this country. Higher education provides students with the skills they need to be competitive in today's global economy. At a time when more and more jobs require some form of postsecondary school, we cannot allow cost to be a barrier to that opportunity. We cannot allow only the wealthy to be able to send their kids to college. It is really that simple.
This country was built on the middle class. This country was built on this idea that no matter where you come from, if you are in a little iron ore mining town in northern Minnesota, that there is a chance that your kid can go to college. My dad did not start at some fancy college. My dad went to a community college which is now Vermilion Community College, which was then Ely Junior College, and got his 2-year degree. Then he went to the University of Minnesota. Back then it was so incredibly affordable. He would still send his laundry back to my grandma in Ely, and she would do his laundry and she would send it back. He got by on barely nothing.
But he went on from that degree at the University of Minnesota to become a journalist and interview everyone from Ginger Rogers to Mike Ditka to Ronald Reagan. It all started in that hardscrabble mining town. That is what education is about in this country. Outstanding student loans now, they are not like something you can fit in a coffee can. Outstanding student loans now total more than $1.2 trillion, surpassing total credit card debt and affecting 40 million Americans.
One in seven borrowers defaults on Federal student loans within 3 years of beginning repayment. Other borrowers are struggling too. Thirty percent of Federal Direct student loan dollars are in default, forbearance or deferment. It costs a lot of money. When there are not high-paying jobs right out of school or when kids have really high costs from school, and when they are in a job that maybe eventually they will get enough money, they have trouble paying off their loans.
But make no mistake, student loan debt impacts everyone, not just students. Student loan debt hangs like an anchor around not just individual students but around our entire economy. It is dragging us down. Graduates with high debt may delay making key investments like saving for retirement or getting married or buying a home. Student debt may even impact a person's career choices, by deterring some graduates from taking jobs in crucial fields like education.
According to a report I released as chair of the Joint Economy Committee on the Senate side, Minnesota actually has one of the highest rates of student debt in the country. Seventy percent of the recent graduates in Minnesota have loan debt, compared to 68 percent nationally. So it means a lot in our State.
The good news is that there are actions we can take----Last summer we acted to prevent the interest rate from doubling. We have also introduced the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act. I urge the Senate to consider this very important bill so more students can manage their debt and build a better future for themselves and their family. I am proud to support this bill.
I yield the floor.