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Letter #5 to Goldman Sachs’s Abby Joseph Cohen


Here is letter #5:

Eternally Indebted

Hello,

My name is Mike Eastwood, I’m just a 20-year-old kid from a small town in Oklahoma, but let me tell you my story.  I come from a stable and mostly happy family life.  I have two sisters (I’m a middle child) who graduated valedictorians of their high schools.  I graduated with a 3.7 GPA from my 3A high school in 2009.

My older sister graduated in 2003 from a state college.  She worked for the next five years but has been inconsistently employed and predominantly unemployed since 2008, when she moved to San Diego to join her husband who was stationed there by the Marines.  All the while, she’s been trying to pay off the $90,000 in student loans she racked up while trying to get a degree in pharmaceuticals that she is not able to use.

I am still going through college, attempting a degree in history.  I decided to go to a community college after high school to avoid debt.  I’ve been attending classes that do not challenge me intellectually in any way because, frankly, I was and am too scared of the debt that comes from a decent school.  I do this in hopes that I can someday be a teacher, though I know that is a career that will leave me in debt for the rest of my life, regardless of how hard I work.  My younger sister just graduated (again, a valedictorian with a 4.0 GPA) and she chose not to go to college after seeing the debt involved in getting a degree, as well as numerous examples of people racking up debt for a degree that doesn’t help them move forward in life.  Each of us attempted and qualified for many scholarships but none of us qualified for PELL Grants or FAFSA Student Aid.  Our parents combined (my mother is a teacher, my father runs a collating machine) make about $65,000 a year, putting us just out of reach of any federal assistance.

Why do I mention this to you?  Goldman Sachs doesn’t have anything to do with school directly and I can’t place the blame for our debts on the shoulders of your corporation, nor would I try to.  I tell you this because I want to show the state and cost of education, even at a local level, and far more importantly, I want to bring to your awareness the lives of those people who seem to have slipped beyond the vision of you and your fellow executives.  My sister, with $90,000 in total student loans and paying a bit above the minimum payment (minimum payment is $345 a month; she pays $400) and paying against an 8.9% annual interest rate, cannot successfully pay off that student loan during her lifetime, assuming she is forced to continue working for K-Mart.  And to perhaps offer a bit more perspective on her situation, she works forty hours a week at the minimum wage of $7.25, which earns her roughly $780 a month.  Just repaying her student loans costs her more than half of her total income and it’s a payment that will never end.

Again, this isn’t your fault.  She didn’t make the job market for those entering the field of pharmaceuticals plummet.  And again, I do not blame Goldman Sachs for these problems.  Allow me to give another example.  As I said before, I’m only 20 years old.  I was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes in April of this year.  Type-1 diabetes means I’ll have to take insulin shots for the rest of my life, avoid some foods, and remove other foods from my diet completely.  I was diagnosed after attending a local soccer game where I fell unconscious while sitting and watching.  My blood sugar had gotten so high that the fact I hadn’t had a stroke was a true miracle (1,115, in case you’re curious.)  This serious medical problem and diagnosis cost me $2,470.  I will also have to pay nearly $160 a month for all of my insulin and diabetes supplies.  I don’t have health care myself, but fortunately, because I’m under 24 and thanks to the new laws passed in 2010, I can remain listed on my mother’s health insurance.  Unfortunately, my mother is a teacher and her coverage is not all that great.  On top of my now $15,000 in school debt and the $1,045 loan I took out last January to cover the cost of my and my fiancé’s bills for a month when she was out of work, I’m in a lot of debt for a kid who was only in high school two years ago, and it is especially high considering that I live in a one-bedroom apartment with my fiancé, I drive a beat-up Pontiac Sunbird, and try desperately not to exceed my means.

I want to stress that I don’t blame Goldman Sachs for these problems; I’m not trying to insinuate in any way that you are at fault for this debt or these problems in my life or my family’s lives.  What I do want to show you is the gap between the lives of everyday Americans and the lives you all lead as the executives of such a prestigious operation.  Between your lives and the lives of those of us who have had to struggle and fight for every bit of happiness we have.

You’ve influenced our government elections using more than $11,200,000 for the sake of your own interests, leaving the American people with no other alternative but to watch and pray it all gets better.  Your profits in 2010 were about $21,700,000,000.  My siblings and I made a combined $31,859 and, with my parents’ income, that’s $96,859.  This is barely enough to pay back my older sister’s student loans.  My family, with the possible exception of my father, is well-educated, hardworking, and politically involved, and yet there is no light at the end of the tunnel.  “Work hard and you’ll have a good life” is a cruel axiom.

The reason I sent you this message is so that you might read it and understand that we are frustrated by our lives, by the fact that a huge portion or our incomes are taken away for the sake of supporting federal and state governments that ignore the people they are supposed to represent, and that ignore them because global business juggernauts have the ability to simply buy a vote.  Your corporate tax breaks are ridiculous.  Your unlimited access to involvement in the affairs of the politics that are supposed to allow the people to improve the quality of their own lives is cruel and unfair.  Most of all, your ignorance of the trials and hardships of the average American is unforgivable.

Please understand why we stand in the streets with signs.  It is not for handouts, it’s not to taunt or torment the rich, and it’s most certainly not because a bunch of lazy, uneducated hippies want to lay blame on the shoulders of giant corporations.  It’s because our lives are in shambles and because you have taken from us our only outlet for change.  So we forge a new outlet and we stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity.  Let us change, begin to change yourselves, so that we will again have the American Dream.

Michael Eastwood

* Abby Joseph Cohen (born 1952 in Queens, New York) is an American economist and financial analyst on Wall Street. She is a partner and—as of March 2008—Senior U.S. investment strategist at Goldman Sachs responsible for leadership of the firm’s Global Markets Institute. Prior to that date, she was Chief Investment Strategist.[1] In 2001 she was named one of the 30 most powerful women in America by Ladies Home Journal.  (from Wikipedia)

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