The nation’s elders lament that they don’t want to pass the debt onto their grandchildren, yet do little to help. We turned to some area children to see how they would resolve it.
Economists report that the United States has accumulated a national debt of more than $18 trillion, a figure far too large for most individuals to even comprehend. Perhaps these numbers will help:
• America’s estimated population is 320 million, so each citizen’s share of the debt is approximately $56,500.
• Since the fall of 2012, the national debt has grown an average of more than $2 billion per day.
• At a rate of $1 per second, repayment would take more than 500 million years. Consider this: If dinosaurs had been making these payments, more than half of the outstanding balance would remain unpaid.
Government officials can be heard tossing around terms such as “impending doom” and “falling off the fiscal cliff,” and they openly fret about the potentially devastating consequences the debt will have on future generations. Still, the national debt continues to grow.
If the crushing debt may indeed cloud the future for our children and grandchildren, perhaps, then, their perspectives should be considered.
The way Jacob Hoffberg, 9, of Center City, sees it, the distinction between necessities and luxuries is all about fiscal discipline.
“Spend money on what you need and not what you want,” offered Hoffberg, a fourth-grade student at Albert M. Greenfield Elementary School who attends Hebrew school at Philadelphia’s Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel.
“You want a toy, but you don’t need a toy,” he continued. “We could not go on as many vacations. We could not go out to eat as much. I could get a job” later in life. “We could save our money.”
The two overriding factors impacting national debt are expenditures and revenue, so the keys to debt reduction would seem to be to lower government spending to match government revenue, raise taxes to match government spending or some combination of the two strategies.
Realistically, there are no other paths to lower the staggering debt. The impact of the elimination of so-called pork barrel spending — that is, the act of using government funds on local projects that are primarily used to bring more money to a specific elected official’s district —would be minimal, since these projects account for a tiny fraction of the debt.
Complicating the problem, however, are such real-world issues as competing political philosophies, the strength of the economy, unemployment rates and foreign affairs.
Jamison, Pa., resident Brett Spivack, 11, who attends Hebrew school at Ohev Shalom of Bucks County in Richboro, sounded a word of caution for those inclined to offer simple solutions to equations whose elements are anything but simple.
“Some say, ‘Make rich people pay more taxes,’ but it might not be that easy,” said Spivack, a fifth-grade student at Warwick Elementary School in Jamison. “A lot of the people who make more money own businesses that provide jobs. If business owners have to pay more in taxes, they might not be able to pay everyone who works for them, so they might have to fire people.
“That means the business might suffer, and not as many people will have jobs.”
That said, Spivack strongly endorses saving over sometimes recklessly spending.
“My parents don’t want me to buy anything unless I have more than enough money to pay for it,” he related. “My sister,” Morage, 7, “and I share a bank account, and once we’re able to save $100 on our own, my dad deposits it in the account. We already have more than $400 in the account.”
Ten-year-old Alysha Schneider of Newtown, a classmate of Spivack’s at Ohev Shalom, has a savings strategy with slightly different details but a similar objective.
“If you aren’t careful with what you spend your money on, when you need money for something important, it might not be there,” noted the fifth-grader at Goodnoe Elementary School in Newtown.
She, too, has a bank account containing birthday money and miscellaneous funds.
“When the ice cream man comes around, I have to use my own money if I want to buy something,” Schneider said. “I usually don’t buy anything from him, because it’s better to save my money for other things.”
A family member demonstrated to Abington’s Amelia Schwartz, 11, part of the sixth-grade class at Rydal Elementary School, that the benefits of a worthwhile investment cannot be overstated.
“My aunt recently invested in a Broadway show called Beautiful,” she said of the life story of musical icon Carole King, “and she ended up making something like 10 times what she invested,” reported Schwartz, who attends Hebrew school at Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park. “Not only can the right investment make money for you that you can save, but you might end up making more than you ever imagined.
“The downside is that you could end up losing money,” she cautioned, “so you never want to invest more than you can afford to invest.”
Southampton resident Jacob Feiner, one of Schwartz’s Hebrew school classmates at Beth Sholom, is constantly on the lookout for effective ways to curb spending while minimizing sacrifice. For example, Feiner, 11, pointed out that the difference between tap water and bottled water is the price tag, not the taste.
The fifth-grader at the Meadowbrook School also recommended a public resource that not only saves money but benefits the masses.
“Instead of buying books, movies or video games, I can borrow them from the library,” he said. “Say I wanted to watch one of the Transformers movies. I can pick it up from the library for free. I might have to wait for a little while, but I’ll eventually get to see it. Plus, when I’m finished with it, I return it to the library, and someone else gets to watch it. That’s way better than buying it, watching it, and putting it in a drawer or a closet, where it will collect dust.”
Different approaches to lingering problems: creative thinking, common sense, fiscally responsible policies. Are you listening, Washington, D.C.?
If so, Michael Franks, 12, a sixth-grade student at Fisher Middle School in Ewing, N.J., has a two-fold approach to impacting national debt in a meaningful way.
“If everybody in the world would give $1, that would be a good beginning to reducing the debt,” he said. “At the same time, the government should lower the salaries of the people who caused the debt to get this large.”
And if that doesn’t work?
Then, Franks concluded, “they should get rid of everyone in Washington, and start over again, fresh.”
Matt Schuman is an area writer. This article originally appeared in the special section, "Financial Health."