In the poker game of American life, the white man is on tilt, bleeding chips like he’s giving them away—because that’s exactly what the white, American man has been doing for 150 years. White, American men started comfortable and stayed comfortable. Some got lazy, and now the chip leader in the poker game of American life senses his chip stack dwindling at the poker table that is American capitalism.
Income inequality grew in 2017 to the largest income gap ever recorded, but for roughly 200 years the white man was the only person at the poker table that is American capitalism. His chips were safe and regularly augmented along with a glass of lemonade by a slave who did the work responsible for the chip stack while his master played solitaire alone.
But when the white man’s first challenger arrived in the 1820s, he felt immediately threatened despite his massive chip stack and perceived mental and physical advantage over his opponent. White men were threatened by women entering the workplace because they’d work for less and advanced machinery made factory jobs easier for them to do. So when a white, American woman approached the poker table with her modest chip stack in hand, the white man went to work, teaching the white woman about American capitalism by using his superior stack of money to take hers. The white man didn’t take the white woman lightly, but he enjoyed her company and gave her enough time and just enough money to learn the game—opportunities not afforded his male opponents. When civil war broke out in the states the white woman’s chip stack grew considerably, and when slavery was abolished, more new players sat at the poker table that is American capitalism.
When a black, American man brought his meager chip stack to the poker table in 1865, the white man might have lost his means of subsidizing his stack, but he knew he could still steal chips from the black man as he did the white woman. And he did and continues to do so, but less often and at an ever-decreasing rate of success.
In 1910, the Mexican Revolution sparked a wave of immigration in the United States, but the first successful labor movement of immigrants in America took place in 1903, when Mexican and Japanese farm workers unionized. It was the first union to win a strike against the giant, California agriculture industry. Then the first wave of Asian immigration to the United States during the California Gold Rush in the 1950s brought more players to the table, each with a larger chip stack than the last. The white man gained another opponent to bully each player who dared sit at the poker table of American capitalism, but that window of opportunity grew shorter with each new player.
When your chip stack is bigger than everyone else’s, you don’t actually have to play poker, or any game for that matter, including the game that is the American economy. You just have to use your money to repeatedly force the poor to decide whether they’re ready to lose everything they have, and they seldom are regardless of the amount. That’s not poker; it’s old-fashioned bullying. The haves lean on the have-nots until they break, at which point the white man borrows them money to buy back into the game, with interest, of course.
The rules of both a poker game and a capitalistic economy cease to govern the gameplay when the majority of wealth is controlled by an extreme minority of players. The game has never been fair and still isn’t, but white, American men are scared anyway. While their chip stack hasn’t decreased significantly, there are more players at the table, and the white man fears there will be more coming for his ill-gotten gains. They can sense the table turning, which is why they’re expressing their anger more boisterously than in the past. They didn’t have much reason to complain while they were buying pots with busted, gutshot straight draws and suited connectors that found no similar suits nor connections amongst the community cards. The white, American man was probably only called and forced to show his cards once every few years in the poker game of American life.
The wealth gap between white and black households in America persists, as does the gap between white and black men. And the wealth gap between white and Hispanic-American men is expected to widen until 2020. But that’s not the case for white and black women. While women have and continue to make less than their male counterparts, white women do not make considerably more than black women raised in similar households. So while white and black women aren’t winning pots as big as the white or black men, they are winning similarly-sized pots relative to each other.
The white man has managed to avoid losing chips to the black man, but the white and black women at the table have charmed the chips right out of the hands of the white man. And he’s enjoyed losing to the women so much the white man has only just realized the growing chip stacks of his other opponents at the table, like the Hispanic- and Asian-Americans. Worse yet, the white and black women at the table are starting to call the white (and brown) on their attempts at getting more than just a handful of chips from the ladies.
Instead of observing the tendencies of his opponents and acting on them, the white man has resorted to bullying the rest of the table with his chip stack, over-betting the pot and forcing his opponents to either risk all their chips or fold. But it’s harder to buy pots with a dwindling chip stack, and the rest of the table has him figured now. The white man doesn’t have the chips to bluff with garbage cards anymore, and while he thinks he’s on a frozen wave of cards you read about, he’s really just scared of all the new action at the table. More players means more cards are out, too, so with every new player at the table, every hand becomes less and less valuable. But that doesn't make immigrants a threat; they can actually pad the chip stack of white, American men, too.
Immigrants work the jobs American men and women won't do, and they pay income taxes for doing them, and spend their income in the American economy, creating more jobs and more wealth for everyone. More players means more action, which means bigger pots and bigger swings of fortune. That worries the white man, as it should, because he's the only one who hasn't been playing poker these last 150 years or so.
White, American men have always been unreasonably angry, but how can you be mad after enjoying an economic advantage built on the backs of slave labor for over 150 years? White, American men tilted the economic playing field so much with slavery and ensuing racial discrimination that their advantage persists to this day. But they sense that advantage dissipating with every immigrant that arrives at the poker table of American capitalism, and that pisses them off, but not rightfully so. Simply being entitled to earning more money isn’t reason enough to be angry about that entitlement decreasing ever so slightly. Being the reason for providing that entitlement against your will, as black Americans were and continue to be (as well as women), is reason enough to be angry, and to be angry for however long the table is tilted in the white man’s favor.
It might be a while before post-secondary education is free for any American accepted to a public college or university. New York has become the first state to offer residents a tuition-free, post-secondary education at community colleges and public colleges and universities, and California could be next. That doesn’t help those of us who have already graduated from college with massive student loan debt, but you can get out of student loan debt without paying it all or worrying about interest accruing. The earlier you take these steps the better.
There are a ton of corporate scammers out there preying on recent college graduates struggling to repay their student loan debt. These companies offer nothing you can’t do yourself from the StudentLoans.gov website but charge a monthly fee for playing middle man between you and your student loan servicer(s).
You should be able to identify these scammers by their too-good-to-be-true offer, but if you ever call any other number besides (800) 557-7394 or (800) 557-7392, you’re likely dealing with a scammer. Keep in mind, though, that these companies already get a bad rep, so if you do end up being scammed, do not hesitate to demand a full refund.
This might sound impossible for an unemployed, college graduate, but it’s essential to improve your borrowing power during the six-month grace period you have before your first student loan payments are due.
What you can borrow depends on your debt-to-income ratio, which is probably pretty terrible for any recent college graduate looking for a job. But even if your income is low (or nonexistent), you can take steps to improve your financial situation by simply moving your debt around. The first step is prioritizing your non-student-loan debt.
Credit cards can be an asset if you use them correctly. If you’re struggling to find a job to improve your debt-to-income ratio by increasing your income, you must improve your debt-to-income ratio by reducing your debt. But how can you reduce your debt without income?
You should know which credit cards are costing you the most in interest. Some of these rates can be upwards of 30 percent, so check to see if there’s an opportunity to transfer your highest credit card balance to a credit card with a lower rate. You might pay a three percent fee on the balance transferred, but if that’s less than you’d pay in interest over the life of the introductory rate, better to pay that amount upfront during your six-month grace period.
The key is to never allow your credit card balance to grow. At the end of every month, your credit card balance should be less than it was when you graduated. That way, when the six-month grace period on your student loans expires, you can work with smaller (or nonexistent) credit card payments.
If you are tired of paying multiple student loan servicers, consolidate your loans under one servicer. This will make your student loan payments one payment paid to one servicer. The important thing to keep in mind when consolidating, though, is when asked the question of whether you work for a nonprofit, answer “yes,” even if you don’t. This will assure that your loans are consolidated with a servicer who qualifies for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). So if you end up working for a nonprofit in the future, your loans already qualify for the program.
You can only pay what you have, so anyone with student loan debt should be on an income-based repayment plan, unless, of course, you make a ton of money. If that’s the case you should just pay off your student loans as quickly as possible to avoid paying interest.
While you must reapply for an income-based repayment plan annually, regardless of your change in adjusted gross income, it will result in the lowest qualifying payment you can make on your student loans.
If your income is low enough, you could end up paying $0 per month, but unless you intend to work for a nonprofit for 10 years and have the remaining balance of your student loans forgiven, interest will accrue at an astronomical rate.
Under the PSLF program, if you make 120 payments -- even of $0 -- while working at least 30 hours per week for a nonprofit organization, the remaining balance of your student loans after those 120 payments will be forgiven. It will disappear.
You don’t necessarily have to be paid by the nonprofit. If you volunteer for 30 hours per week with a nonprofit or multiple nonprofits, you just need an executive of that nonprofit to verify that you work 30 hours per week for them using this form.
You can even start a nonprofit and have a member of your board verify your work hours. I just found out all the work I did for a nonprofit I started to grow ice sports in my hometown qualifies me for the PSLF program, so if there’s a cause near and dear to your heart that isn’t being addressed by a nonprofit, start one. It’s as easy as raising some money and filing some corporate paperwork with the state to acquire tax exempt status. (Note: partisan political nonprofits and labor unions do not qualify.)
Don’t let student loan debt cripple your economic outlook. Take these steps as soon as possible to get out of student loan debt.
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