Wed. May 22nd, 2024

By: Grainne Rhuad

This country from the start was built on slave labor.  Before we began importing slaves we literally sold ourselves into slavery to get here. This process as most school children know is called Indenture. 

The way it works is you agree to labor for a set number of years and someone with means buys your contracts and agrees to do things like pay off your debt or pay passage for you on a ship or oversee you for your prison time; something of that sort.   

Very often indenture would run longer than the original agreed upon time.  Usually this was due to clauses in the contracts.  Things like failing to bring in a good enough harvest.  Getting pregnant, married, running off, not making enough in trade if you are a craftsman, breaking something, pissing off the owner of your contract. 

For things like these you would be penalized with extra time working for your contract owner, at their discretion. For example they may determine their broken butter churn was worth six more months.  You didn’t have a lot of say as an indentured servant.

Indentured servitude is nothing new.  It has been around as long as civilization has.  Egyptians, Romans, Brits and Gauls all made use of it.  Children were handed over to pay household debt or a Man would conscript with an Army to keep his family in food and become a citizen. 

The history classes you had in school and which children and young adults still receive tell you that this practice was done away with…oh about the time that we started practicing “real slavery” in earnest.  That is to say slavery, with no chance of paying off a debt in which people were treated as cattle.

Today’s indenture is of a more insidious sort.  There are in fact many ways in which we indenture our lives, through credit cards, business, and auto and home loans.  But what is really taking a toll on Americans young and middle aged is Student Loans. 

Currently one in every five government loans that entered repayment in 1995 has gone into default. The default rate is higher for loans made to students from two-year colleges, and up to 40 percent, for those who attended for-profit institutions.

1995 is generation X, these are the people who  are now reaching their 40’s and probably figured they would have paid off, if not all at least a good chunk of their student loans by now.  And yet they’re still struggling under the weight of their education.  

I remember when I signed up for my student loans.  It was in 1994 and it was my last year of college.  I had been able to do all the rest with grants and work study.  Part of the process at the time had been a ‘class’ which was really a group talking to about the dangers of loans, how important it was to keep records and make payments to your loans.  Also, should one run into trouble, do not wait on it.  It was in short a lesson in responsible lending. 

Nowadays at college campuses across the country this no longer happens. Loans applications are taken electronically and the “advice” about how to determine if you need a loan is not given to you by a living breathing human, but rather a statement which you are supposed to read and sign off on.  I know I don’t even want to admit to how many electronic agreements I have signed off on without reading in full.  Stupid I know but we all do it and are at risk of becoming Human Centipads.

In addition to that, private loans are even easier to get.  All that is necessary is registration in a higher learning institution OF ANY KIND and a bank acct.  Usually your own bank will be happy to enslave you.

What’s not so easy to get anymore are Scholarships, Grants and money from your parents.  The money from your parents’ one seems obvious.  They are broke and can’t pay their own student loans.  But did you know that if your parents make over $47,000.00 Gross and they went to college you do not meet any of the criteria for Federal Grants?  Furthermore if you happen to be working and supporting yourself you still cannot use your own information to apply for grants until you are either 24 years of age or married. 

Kind of makes it seem like the Federal Government doesn’t want to support any of your education doesn’t it?  It certainly seems that way to thousands of students every year who were told by their college graduate parents that college is the passport to the middle class.  Too bad they didn’t know it was a onetime passport per family and by getting their own degree their progeny would be unable to afford school without indenturing themselves to the machine.

There are currently two main sources for federal student loans — the Federal Family Educational Loan Program, or FFELP, which is being phased out, and the Federal Direct Student Loan Program, or FDSLP. The FFELP has about $390 billion in total loans outstanding –$77 billion in Stafford loans, $81 billion in unsubsidized Stafford loans, and $211 billion in consolidation loans. Then there are the loans to parents.  Yes, the same ones who can’t afford to pay off their own loans. These PLUS loans add up to $21 billion.

The FDSLP is up to $220 billion in loans outstanding at this point — $58 billion in Stafford, $59 billion in unsubsidized Stafford, $20 billion in PLUS, and $83 billion in consolidation loans.

Add the two together, and you get to $610 billion.  This is just federal loans. These numbers don’t include private-sector student loans at all, and already they’re above the $550 billion that the Fed claimed was the total of all student loans outstanding in the country.

Here are some more scary facts about the cost of higher education:

  1. Since 1978, the cost of college tuition in the U.S. has gone up by over 900 percent.
  2. In 2010, the average college graduate had accumulated approximately $25,000 in student loan debt by graduation day.
  3. Federal statistics reveal that only 36 percent of the full-time students who began college in 2001 received a bachelor’s degree within four years.
  4. Approximately 14 percent of all students that graduate with student loan debt end up defaulting within 3 years of making their first student loan payment.

 “Thirty years ago, college was a wise, modest investment,” says Fabio Rojas, a professor of sociology at Indiana University. He studies the politics of higher education. “Now, it’s a lifetime lock-in, an albatross you can’t escape”- Huffington Post.

Many proponents of personal freedom in recent years have pointed out that it might be time to stop buying into the route of higher education.  In this way at least our up and coming generation can avoid this finance driven slavery.  Education, they point out is available for all, all one needs to do is seek it out. 

This is absolutely true. 

And yet our society for some reason is not ready to let go of its glorified hall pass; that little piece of paper called a degree. The thing that really shows the world, you are a good worker, can make plans and complete them; and most importantly follow rules.

Those in positions to hire employees are going to be looking for these things above experience.  As most hiring agents will tell you experience is imminently harder to verify than a college degree which is easily searchable.  Many positions that will pay well enough to pay off those huge student loans will not even look at applications that don’t include a copy of a degree or further training certificate of some sort.

Here’s some more numbers on that:

  1. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the unemployment rate for college graduates younger than 25 years old was 9.3 percent in 2010.
  2. Over 18,000 parking lot attendants have college degrees.
  3. Approximately 317,000 waiters and waitresses have college degrees.
  4. In the U.S. approximately 365,000 cashiers have college degrees.
  5. One-third of all college graduates end up taking jobs that don’t even require college degrees.
  6. In the U.S. 24.5 percent of all retail salespersons have a college degree.
  7. Once they get out into the “real world”, 70% of college graduates wish that they had spent more time preparing for the “real world” while they were still in school.


The point being that things in our economy and culture have changed to the point that we can actually begin to demonstrate an ability to exist in the “real world” with or without degrees.  Most jobs that are readily available do not require degrees, so why indenture yourself for a lottery chance at middle class when you can be absolutely free of servitude at a slightly lower class?  You may even bring home more money than your middle class neighbor due to the ridiculous amount of taxes the middle class is required to pay.  

In addition you won’t be subject to the adding on of time to your indentured servitude which still happens with student loans.  Want to get married and have a baby, you get six months, and then you have to go back to work or start paying again.  If not, your loan continues to grow, thus your indentured time lengthens.  The same applies if for some reason you lose your job, or don’t make enough money.  You are owned entirely, either by the federal government or a bank or both. 

In this time, the insidiousness of indenture through higher education should be something we are all willing to fight against.  Do those of us who have been to college really want our youth absolutely enslaved and controllable for the facade of academia?  Or would we rather see future generations of bright people able to make decisions based on their talents, drive and dreams without fear of not being able to meet the contract of student loans?


By Grainne

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66 thoughts on “The New Indentured Servant”
  1. @Mitch- How silly it is of Eddie to get pissed that people didn’t have the same view as him regarding Ghandi. How silly to not entertain opposing views period.

    It is through discussing differences that we find the truth, no? I think even Ghandi would have agreed with that.

    I am also edified to see that this thread which began with education has turned to real thought provoking discourse. This is the way we really learn, which is the point after all.

  2. @Sh- I don’t believe compassion is a fake emotion…

    Wait, let me change that. Compassion I believe is the other emotions like empathy, love, charitas in action. Compassion is an active thing. It’s all well and good to Love someone but what does it matter really if you are doing nothing about it?

    Compassion is doing something about it. I find it one of the most valuable actions we have as humans.

  3. I would rather help people out of love, than out of feeling sorry for them.

    IMO, compassion just never comes into play at all if you love people.

    Also, to me, the basic fundamental implication of compassion is that one judges other people to be less fortunate than oneself.

    What does less fortunate even mean?


  4. IMHO, to think that someone else is less fortunate than oneself, is a way of secretly feeling superior to said someone.

    IMHO, the truth is that none of us is better or worse off than anyone else. We are all equal, and life is hard no matter who you are, where you are.


  5. @Sh- That simply isn’t my definition of compassion. Compassion to me means treating others with dignity and charity- the root word of charity is LOVE, but not the familial nor romantic love. Simply love for love itself. I think we’re saying close to the same thing but asigning different meanings for the word compassion.

  6. BTW, the dictionary defines compassion as: Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.


  7. Oh please, sh! You actually say, “IMHO, to think that someone else is less fortunate than oneself, is a way of secretly feeling superior to said someone.”

    I certainly don’t feel superior to the man or woman who is intellectually brilliant, gifted with an intellect that exceeds all norms; but who also has the social skills of a slug. But I do have compassion for them when they trip over their words while meeting another human being.

    I certainly don’t feel superior to a woman with a perfect body and face who uses it to advance her bank account through acting, modeling or whatever and accumulates millions; and then suffers from fears that everyone she meets is out to use her for her money. But I feel compassion for her that she suffers loneliness.
    Your thinking is narrow in this subject. People are more multidimensional than what you judge them to be. Even the heartless serial killer has moments of pain from a past experience.

  8. Grainne, I was watching CSPAN’s Symposium on Poverty in America tonight. Suze Orman was discussing the fact that many students are destroying their lives with student loans. It was an interesting show and brought me back to thinking about your incredible article. The panelists on this show are worth watching alone. Here’s the site to see the video:

    I believe they say it should be on PBS soon too.

  9. The predatory nature of loans is a symptom of a larger problem. Too many kids go to college with the intent of getting a peice of paper that they are told will secure them a job. Unless you are in a field that developes skills that will actually be applied (medical,engineering ect) many majors are endeavors in learning that won’t return on their investment. The mantra use to be that higher education sees a ROI and that ignorance was expensive. With the demand placed in ANY degree, the price of all education nation wide racked upwards and now the “cheap” state schools find themselves having to raise admission standards. Meanwhile, trade schools are pumping out mechanics and techs who’s average salaries have been progressing over the last decade. This whole business of financing higher education is really leveraging ones desperation , hopes and assoerations to compound interest. Much like buying a house, if the lender presented the interest chart over the period of the loan right before you signed, the idea of servitude would really sink in. So of course the sales pitch will always be ” how simple paying for education” can be.

    Student loans are a business. So is higher education. We throw kids at these businesses and tell them the services offered by higher education will make them better and give them a future. Is it any wonder that so many are slaves to a finance plan?

  10. Lol, my iPhone thinks aspersions should be assioerations so perhaps I’m a slave to the ghost of Steve Jobs.

  11. Jen, If I may ask, what is your standard for judging who is more or less fortunate? I really don’t want to argue with you. I am genuinely interested in your opinion here.


  12. And Grainne, in your opinion, if you love someone, is it even possible to remain passive and indifferent in their time of need?

    IMO, If we could open our hearts and learn to feel genuine love for the earth and all that is on it, then I feel compassion, as defined by the dictionary, would lose all meaning.


  13. @Stacy-Well stated. Thanks for bringing it back around to an important point.

    @ Sh- the dictionary definitions of action words are limited at best. These things evolve by the people. This happens in different ways in different cultures. I don’t want to argue what compassion means to me, I have already stated that.

    Also, Yes, sometimes to show love we must be passive with individuals. Some lessons cannot be otherwise learned. This happens very often with children and those we mentor.

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