Millions Sacrifice Everything to Obtain Education

By: Lorraine Guerrero Neumayer

My name is Lorraine Guerrero Neumayer and I’m a social worker in Will County State Attorney James W. Glasgow’s office.

Even on the hardest days, full of awful stories of drug abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, child neglect and more, I know I made the right career decision. Advocating for children is the perfect job for me.

Almost every day, I have brief moments of doubt about my decision to earn my master’s of social work. But you know what? It’s not because of the terrible things I sometimes see on the job.

It’s because of the crushing student loan debt that I ended up taking on in my studies to earn that degree.

Right now, I owe more than $145,000 in student loans. That’s $59,000 more than I borrowed in the first place.

And that’s even after setting up payment plans that are supposed to help, turning more than $8,000 in tax refunds over to the federal government, and having parts of my hard-earned salary garnished because of my debts.

Free public college used to be a gateway to success for students of all backgrounds in this country. Now, these formerly free universities are charging exorbitant tuition and pushing college out of reach for all but America’s wealthiest.

I had a tough childhood. Me and my five younger siblings were raised by my single mother, who struggled with severe mental illness and a life-long battle with heroin addiction. Most of us were victims of severe physical abuse and sexual abuse.

College was going to be my escape plan to a better life.

One semester, when I was short of funds and unable to register for classes, I heard about student loans. I was advised to take the maximum loan. I continued to take loans and even used some of the money to help my siblings pay their rent and utilities because no one told me that was a bad idea.

To get a social work license, I needed to earn my master’s degree. And, of course, that meant taking out more student loans.

After graduation, I did my best trying to navigate the student loan payment process. But somehow, the Department of Education “lost” two of my loans totaling $40,000.

A year later, when the department was finally was able to identify what loan servicer had bought my loans, I was in default. That meant I could no longer qualify for student loan forgiveness programs. Even worse, after several years of hard work and sacrifice, I was told I might not be able to obtain or renew my license to do therapy with children and families.

What’s even more outrageous: 46 million Americans are paying higher interest rates on their loans than the big banks paid after they were bailed out. That’s wrong.

Unfortunately, dealing with this predatory and unethical loan system was the only way I could overcome adversity in my life and become a productive member of society.

This is a national crisis. Fortunately, there is something we can do about it.

For the first time, Bernie Sanders and Representative Ilhan Omar have introduced bills in Congress to cancel all student debt.

The impact of this legislation would be transformative and provide a huge boost to our economy. Our Revolution is partnering with Progressive Democrats of America, the Debt Collective and various student associations to kick off a campaign to organize to pass this legislation

My story is not that unusual. And it’s why we need to keep fighting to cancel all student debt and bring an end to student lenders profiting off of young people’s vulnerability. We need a society that allows everyone, regardless of their income or background, to overcome any adversity and become productive citizens.