Rising National Debt Looms In Graduates' Financial Future

This story was written by Alison Harman, Technician


Once she graduates, it may be difficult for Megan Culbreth, a North Carolina State University junior in biochemistry, to get a loan.

That's a loan for college or for a car or even a mortgage on a house.

And it's all due to a debt that the United States has racked up over the years -- a debt that, with a downturn in the financial sector of Wall Street, has brought into question America's ability to repay its debt.

"I don't think about house loans because, though I may eventually get a house, I don't think I'll be getting one as soon as I get out of college," she said. "I may have to get a loan if I decide to go to pharmacy school."

If there aren't any loans available, she said it "may be more difficult to get money." Although she has savings and bonds, she said she doesn't have "a lot."

These are problems, though, that Oliver Williams, a professor of political science, and Thomas Grennes, a professor of economics, said college graduates may face with an economic recession looming overheard.

How much is the United States in debt?

(UWIRE) -- $9,785,866,165,910.40

Broken down further, that's $5,613,059,030,493.40 in public debt and $4,172,807,135,417 in intragovernmental holdings.

source: U.S. Department of The Treasury

What is this debt from, and who is it to

(UWIRE) -- To put it simply, Americans spend too much of what they don't have, Oliver Williams, a professor of political science, said.

And totaling more than $500 billion, China holds the second-highest amount of American debt.

"We've been in the situation in which Americans have been spending more than they're making and saving nothing," Williams said. "China has been willing to invest money in our debt. If China is less willing to do that, that means our government is not going to be as willing to spend as much."

In the past few days, the national debt has been getting more coverage from news outlets because of a failure in the country's financial sector. But the United States has "has had to balance payments of deficiets with China for several years," Thomas Grennes, a professor of economics, said.

"The Chinese government, for example, holds billions of dollars inU.S government bonds," he said. "They have bought these bonds and, maybe one year from now, the U.S. government has agreed to pay all money, plus 5 percent more."

Although the United States could choose to ignore its debt to foreign countries like China and Japan, which holds the greatest amount of American debt, Grennes said the United States has never defaulted -- refused to pay or paid late -- its debt.

"This is big," Grennes said, "but when one bond matures they pay it off. Then they borrow by issuing another bond. Every time a bond becomes due they do issue another bond. When the due date comes, the government has always payed it off and borrowed again."

It's a different story for individuals, Grennes said. If corporations or small businesses don't pay out their bonds -- whether Chinese, Japanese or even American citizens -- they have a claim to their money.

And some major investment banks like AIG are having trouble repaying bonds to those who have claimed bonds. The ability to repay bonds is also erratic within other sectors, like automobile manufacturing. While Toyota is able to pay off its bonds, Grennes said General Motors isn't doing so well.

Their financial difficulty isn't indicative of most American companies, which Grennes said are, in general, having no trouble paying their bonds.

"If this were a private debt instead of government debt, then the holder of the bond could go to court," Grennes said. "Since it's government debt, you can't do that. The Chinese government can't seize the White House."

Will China become a world power? If it does, will it ask for its money back?

(UWIRE) -- Economically, China will become a world power, Williams said.

"The best projection -- best economic projection -- is that China will surpass the United States in size by 2027," he said.

Williams said he expects the United States' growth rate to fall to 1 to 2 percent in the next few years due to the economic slowdown the U.S. is experiencing. China, however, is expected to keep growing at 8 percent per year.

Williams attributes China's success mainly to its population.

"China is going to be big in many things because it has such a big population," he said. "But it doesn't necessarily mean they are going to be wealthier than typical American."

He said this is due mainly to a lack of Chinese individual freedom.

"I'm hesitant to say China is going to be a leading world power," Williams said. "It's going to be a strong and large country economically, but China still has not positioned itself well enough to be the leader of the world. Until it liberalizes its political system, I don't think it can be."

Although Grennes said the United States will repay its debt to China, Williams said that, if the American government chooses not to, China will not ask for its money.

It will, he said, start investing less in American business and stop buying debt.

"American debt is going to be looked upon as less safe than it has in the past," he said. "That will cause China to spend more of its money at home, on its own domestic needs and on its own people. It hasn't really made a lot of sense to anybody anyway that China would gain so much foreign currency reserves and not improve the lives of its own people."

In the past six years, Williams said the Chinese market for its own products has grown so that the country doesn't necessarily need the American market.

"They've got that outlet now which they have not had," he said. "Their own market has become more important to them, and more people in China now have more money to buy goods."

How will this debt impact the economy?

(UWIRE) -- The burden of paying off this debt will, Grennes said, come from either the tax payers or from companies and shareholders who are responsible for the debt.

But if the economy goes into recession, Grennes said it will be harder for "the typical American to get a loan."

If the economy tightens, Williams said personal debt like college and car loans and mortgages will be harder to come by.

"It's going to be hard, but eventually the United States will come back," he said. "This is a major economy. It's an innovative economy. We're a country with a high level of productivity, we have the trained man power to be productive and have all the technology to be productive. Between our inventiveness and productivity, we will come back."

In the meantime, he said, "We will see the changes we need to make in social policy and the economy."
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