For younger generations, U.S. is rotting from within

Sometimes, you just have to stop and think about a sentence for a bit in order to realize just how bad things really are.

Here’s today’s head shaker:

One in 10 working Americans between the ages of 35 and 44 are getting their wages garnished. That means their pay is being docked – often over an old credit card debt, medical bill, or student loan.

It’s contained in a stunning project from NPR and ProPublica on changes in the way debt collectors operate. In all but a handful of states, they can simply sweep everything out of your bank account. Everything.

We know what you’re thinking. Deadbeats. Serves ’em right.

In this story, however, a family lost it all because a woman fell and broke her wrist. In fact, many of the stories being told begin with someone who didn’t have health insurance. Others are simply victims of the recession.

Back in 1968, when lawmakers passed the landmark Consumer Credit Protection Act, it specifically limited how much of a debtor’s pay could be seized. But it made no mention of bank account garnishments. As a result, a collector can’t take more than 25 percent of a debtor’s paycheck, but if that paycheck is deposited in a bank, all of the funds can be taken.

Carolyn Carter, director of advocacy at the National Consumer Law Center, says the lawmakers didn’t address bank seizures because they simply weren’t common at the time. In today’s collection environment, she said, “the wages that are deposited in a bank account become suddenly much more vulnerable than anyone realized.”

Since the late 1960s, debt collection has changed in other ways that lawmakers couldn’t have anticipated. Today, buying old debt is an industry in itself. And big debt buying firms hire teams of lawyers to crank out lawsuit after lawsuit seeking to collect. Carter says it’s time for lawmakers at the state and local level to revisit and reform existing laws.

Wisconsin is one of only three states that protects paychecks so that they don’t drop below the poverty level.

And there’s yet another tale of the generation from NPR today. There are few jobs for this country’s youngest research scientists — the best and the brightest.

Support for biomedical research is down 20 percent, NPR complains.

What does this look like for the best and brightest? A commenter on the NPR website tells the story:

This is one of the reasons my husband and I moved to Europe for jobs. After getting on-site interviews for 3 colleges/Universities, but not getting offered a position or deciding the fit wasn’t right before a decision was made on their part, and seeing no hope in the funding opportunities, we made the move.

I hated leaving my family and friends, but an opportunity presented itself where 2 PhD’s could have a job in the same location and get paid a bit more than what we made as post-docs. For him it was a pretty even swap from his previous post-doctoral and doctoral training, but I had to adapt to a new field and position that was much different from my PhD education and training.

I believe we will both be better for the risks we took, but my dreams of being a University educator training the next generation of science are all but dashed by the downward trajectory of the funding situation.

I used to tell students in the labs I worked in they should go onto do PhD’s if they wanted to do science and make a difference. Now I tell them to get a job after their bachelors and think very hard if they want to earn tiny salaries to work long hours and in the end fail more often than you succeed, only to graduate and find yourself in the position where you may not find gainful employment doing what you trained so hard for.

It is a dismal situation that academia has come to this. I love that the Ice bucket challenge has earned so much money for ALS research, but they are not the only ones hurting. People should be telling their constituents that they want to see more money go into all science so we can support people who want to make a different.

Right now, a grant has to be in the upper 6% of all that are submitted to get funded. This is why professors in Academia spend 90% of their time writing grants rather than mentoring students and post-docs.

“It’s not that the number of jobs has diminished,” says another. “It’s that the number of good jobs has diminished.”

These stories come on top of recent revelations about just how saddled this same generation is with student debt.

Deepest sympathies, younger generations.

Related: Minnesota Poll: Majority say state economy doing better (Star Tribune).