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Why Many Americans Aren’t Concerned About a National Debt Default

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With everyone from the Treasury Department to the International Monetary Fund to the World Bank to several of the country’s top economists warning about massive international economic disruption if the U.S. fails to raise the debt ceiling, thereby triggering a default, one might think that Americans would be a shade nigh of collective hysteria — and calling, emailing, texting or sending flocks of carrier pigeons to their elected representatives to complain — about their own financial prospects if Congress doesn’t act.

And yet a recent Credit.com poll shows that almost 30% of our fellow citizens say they’re not concerned about interest rates going up for any common loan or line of credit, and almost 29% say they’re not concerned about the impact on their own financial futures — including the health of their retirement accounts or their job prospects.


On the one hand, it’s jarring to see how many people don’t recognize that Congress’ inability to resolve yet another crisis of its own making could really hurt everyday Americans, from driving up their credit card or mortgage interest rates to decimating their retirement savings.

And, on the other, it’s also easy to understand why many folks don’t think a national debt default will touch them. This is hardly the first time that Congress wrapped itself in knots over problems it created for itself, or that any one of a number of politicians and talking heads declared that the financial apocalypse was at hand — only to be proved wrong. It’s not even the first time Congress threatened to keep a lid on the debt ceiling. But between this budget showdown and that sequester, the last debt ceiling fight and the more recent government shutdown, the majority of Americans found themselves, at best, inconvenienced. Why, they must be thinking, is this any different? What’s the big deal?

A Need for Context

Of course, it’s the media’s job to explain why this is more than just another partisan cat fight and what real problems Americans may face if their elected representatives yet again fail to do their job of governing — rather than their preferred pastime of posturing. And, like the politicians they cover, many in the media have focused more on the infighting on the Hill than the ultimate problems for the United States, its citizens as individuals and its reputation in the world (and in world markets).

With the media often representing the default fight as a matter of Democrats vs. Republicans, providing balance by simply transcribing whatever each side says into a microphone, what they’re not providing is the context people need (in the time they have to spend reading about it) to really understand what impact this territorialism and ungrounded ideology will have on people’s everyday lives.

It wasn’t that long ago that this country found itself in the midst of a Great Recession, with housing prices dropping, retirement accounts evaporating and huge companies — and even industries — facing extinction without a direct infusion of government money. People know what higher interest rates do to their bottom line, they know what a lack of available credit means for their everyday lives. Those who rely on government programs (like Social Security, food stamps or unemployment) are keenly aware of the dire consequences of a late — or absent — paycheck. What they clearly aren’t aware of is that this back-and-forth between politicians, who they’re sick of seeing on the nightly news, is actually about a real crisis that could send them reeling just as they’re beginning to recover.

Perhaps it’s time someone told them.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its affiliates.

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