When Vernardo and Claire Simmons-Valenzuela married, they imagined all the trappings of a middle-class life. Soon enough, they had kids. Claire finished a master's degree. They held jobs as an Army medic and a physician's assistant. They dreamed of next steps: owning a home, taking their first vacation in years. Vernardo would return to school for a bachelor’s in nursing. But when payments for the couple's $187,000 in combined student loan debt came due, most of it accrued during Claire’s graduate education, they put those dreams on hold.
"We make ends meet but basically have a mortgage payment in the student loans," which total $1,500 a month, Claire told Campus Progress. "It has made it impossible for us to save."
The Simmons-Valenzuelas make their loan payments on time. A strict budget keeps their spending under control. The loans that now burden Claire paid for an education that opened doors to higher-paying jobs and better opportunities. But the couple typifies a growing number of American families, nearly—yet not quite—overwhelmed by student debt, living on the brink.
"Young adults are in a period when they should be investing in their futures to build the kind of middle class stability that their parents’ generation enjoyed," Catherine Ruetschlin, a policy analyst at Demos, told Campus Progress. "Instead they are paying down tens of thousands of dollars in college debt, putting those critical investments in their future farther out of reach."