Credit card debt is often associated with excess, with luxury. With that dress you shouldn’t really splurge on or that trip you decide to take because you’ve ‘earned’ it. But it’s time to open our eyes up about credit cards— and debt— because levels are spiraling dangerously close to those of 2007, but for very different reasons. Where as debt once reflected mortgages and car payments— big ticket items— a terrifying number of households are now going into debt just to survive.
“Figures for household debt show that since 2012 households have added to their debt mountain and the trajectory puts the ratio of household debt to GDP heading back towards the peak seen in the boom years before the financial crash,” the Guardian reports. “In March 2012, total household debt stood at £1,518.5bn in today’s prices compared with £1,630.1bn in March 2017. So in the past five years household debt has increased by an inflation-adjusted rate of 7.3%. It is not a surprise to many analysts that with wages growth adjusted for inflation (and excluding bonuses) crawling ahead by just 0.7% over the same five-year period, consumers are turning to credit to buy essential items.”
The cost of living has risen to dangerous levels and much of the debt consumers are getting into isn’t because of luxury splurges— it’s food, it’s rent, it’s medicine. And the young are being disproportionately affected. A recent survey found that two thirds of young people have had to borrow from family and friends to make it from paycheck to paycheck— and many have to do so every month. With the job market more competitive, minimum wages worth far less in real terms than in their parent’s youth, and an albatross of student debt, they’re already starting behind the eight ball. And for those without family and friends to borrow from, credit card debts and payday loans remain the only option.
It’s easy to write this off to the indulgence of youth, to an inability to control spending. But we need to look bigger. In 2007 and the Great Recession we saw what the volatility of too much debt can do. We saw how destructive it can be. Yet here we are, again. Without basic protections, without rent controls, without humane student loan interest schemes, without anything that can stop this debt avalanche from happening again.
Instead, we are letting them suffer. “We would rather work the extra hours and miss out on family time together to make sure we can make ends meet,” Laura, 19 tells the BBC. “We still don’t have enough money to get married.” Losing out on marriage, houses, children, essential time with family and friends— young people are being forced to make sacrifice and sacrifice. And it’s not enough. And it won’t be until we learn our lessons— because we’re right on track for it to happen again.