Katie grew up with a comfortable middle class lifestyle in New York; her parents had steady jobs for most of her childhood and they owned their own home. But the economic downturn of the early 2000s hit them hard and a period of unemployment eventually led to bankruptcy and a move across the country to Spokane in search of a fresh start.
Despite her family’s troubles, Katie managed to work her way through college at Gonzaga University and earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She wanted to go to school to try to escape the hardships her parents faced. “I just knew I didn’t want to live paycheck-to-paycheck like my parents have. I wanted better for myself…I threw myself into school because I saw what I could be like if I didn’t.”
With sizable debts of their own, Katie’s parents weren’t able to help Katie pay for college, so she funded her education with loans. “I have fifty-three thousand in debt from GU. I’m going back to school for my graduate degree. So, I’m for sure going to get more loans on top of that… I would say at least thirty to forty years [to repay the loans.]”
“The education system is pretty flawed at this point. With student loans, the interest rates keep rising. Even being in school, your interest still accumulates. I don’t think that our country’s really good at making school as accessible as it should be.”
Even though she has a degree and has been steadily employed since the age of 16, Katie hasn’t had health insurance for the past five years. Her positions in retail haven’t been eligible for benefits. “I didn’t get any benefits at all because they only provide health insurance and benefits for full-time employees and it’s near impossible to be full-time; you could be working almost thirty-seven hours a week and they still wouldn’t consider you full-time.” Her parents also couldn’t afford to add Katie to their insurance plan, leaving her without insurance. “It’s too much for my parents to take on and their insurance is pretty crappy so they barely use it.”
Lacking health insurance meant Katie had to forgo basic care. “It was really hard not having insurance. All through college, I didn’t have health insurance, so it was really problematic because I couldn’t go to the dentist, I couldn’t go to the doctor if I was sick.” But when she really needed care in an emergency, it left Katie with unmanageable debt. “The one time I absolutely had to go was when I had the kidney stones and we paid, probably close to two grand, in medical bills… I had to pay for ER visits out of pocket and it took me a long time to pay those off. I went pretty far into debt because I was paying for everything out of pocket.”
There is more wealth in America than ever before, but most of us never see it. Hard working young adults like Katie are struggling to pay for a basic education and have enough to see a doctor when they need to. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Implementing universal healthcare and increasing access to affordable higher education are policy solutions that build ladders of opportunity for all. In a rising America, shared prosperity lets us go as far as our dreams and efforts will take us.
For more about economic mobility, including other Ladders to Opportunity stories, please visit this page.
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