Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Should You Flee the Country?

Anyone who has read this blog since I started writing here knows that I am an advocate of leaving the country, either to start a new debt-free life or just to find a decent paying job that will sustain you for a few years. This is what I wrote in February:
My suggestion is if you don't want to spend the next 10-20 years unemployed or temping, learn a foreign language and a skill that is transferable anywhere in the world, then consider leaving the country if you can. If you refuse or can't because of family or financial reasons, be prepared to suffer for the foreseeable future.
My opinion hasn't changed. I don't care what the nightly news says about signs of improvement. If you are unemployed or underemployed and reading this from your parents' basement, things haven't improved. Suprime JD wrote a post yesterday which listed good reasons for some recent grads to consider moving away for good. I recommend reading the entire post at his blog.
We have been caught in a trap. The injustice against us is severe. We owe all this fucking money with no reasonable means of paying it back anytime soon and having a decent standard of living. Student loan repayments coupled with rising energy prices, rising healthcare costs, low wages and high rents spells hardship for many JD's. The stronger the injustice, the stronger the response. Leaving the country is a reasonable solution for many. Just as other immigrants fled their native countries due to economic discrimination (because in the end all discrimination is in essence economic) so must we. This is one option that exists. If the system is so stacked against us, with banks, government, public sentiment not willing to help us, then we must help ourselves. Who is willing to make a move in order to better his life? Is moving to Germany, Brazil, Singapore, Italy, South Africa, Australia, wherever, worth it in the end? You start a fresh new life, meet new people, and have 0 debt at the expense of leaving loves ones behind. Many others have done the same thing. My parents left world war 2 wrecked greece behind for a better life here. They said goodbye to relatives, friends, and loved ones in order to have economic freedom. For many JD debt slaves in america, fleeing the debt burden is a most viable option. With interest, many will pay back $312,000 on a $150,000 student loan over a period of 25 years. Imagine being able to consume $312,000 over a 25 year period as opposed to paying back debt which did not further your life, but only burdened it. Many american JD's think it to be absurd that they should have to leave their country for a better lifestyle. Heres the reality: it is NOT absurd to leave, but it is absurd to STAY. This is what the lenders want, for us to stay and pay back the loan, with interest.

Millions of others have emigrated for a better lifestyle. The fact that JD's are leaving and other graduate school debt slaves are emigrating from America shows that the USA standard of living has fallen over the course of the past 2 decades. Millions around the world have also gotten professional degrees only to drive cabs and busses, but at least they are debt free as most schools are publicly financed. We JD's here are in a world of trouble and pain. But this can go away rather quickly. Get some type of employment, save your money, work under the table if you have to. Pick a country, get the visa, and split. Learn the language just as so many immigrants here learned our language.

The perception that we american lawyers are so special needs to change. According to the system we are NOT special, but just pawns to be exploited. We studied and gave up working for 3 years in order to pursue a law license to better our lives. We incurred +150k in debt to achieve this goal. For many it has been a fruitless endeavor. We must MAKE OURSELVES SPECIAL. Fleeing the nation is not for everyone. Some will be able to find nonlegal employment that will pay them well. Others have wealthy parents that will support them. But there are thousands of others that will not find alternative employment, do not have wealthy parents, and are working for $15 per hour while owing 150k in debt. Its time to make a move.
While I wholeheartedly agree with Subprime JD's thoughts on leaving the country, my opinion differs slightly that the education scam, whether you're talking about the college scam or the law school scam, is in the same category as the subprime mortgage crisis:
The fact of the matter is that the unemployed JD is a tiny, miniscule percentage of the population. There are over 10 million homeowners in default, whereas less than 200,000 JDs are getting crushed in debt, more or less. Our plight will most likely not be recognized by the majority of people. In addition, lawyers are universally hated by the general public. Ive posted about new lawyer woes on other financial blogs and people cheer our suffering. We will not get much support from the general public, nor from the gov, nor from the ABA. We are on our own.
The higher education scam will have much deeper consequences for our nation than the downfall of Lehman Brothers or the housing crisis. The issues the law scam blogs write about apply to a much larger population outside of the legal community. The higher education scam is a generational crisis affecting millions of people between the ages of 18 and 30, as well as their children and their aging parents. This is why Angel and I cover the college scams because more people need to realize that rising tuition costs and non-dischargeable student loans isn't just a problem affecting JDs. It will have serious affects on our nation's long-term economic stability and ability to remain competitive on the world stage.

A third of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 are unemployed in this country. Young, able-minded adults who should be having families, working, saving up to buy a home or for their children's education are now moving back in with mom and dad to survive. I see daily advertisements for college educated graduates to work for $8.75 per hour as office assistants. No benefits. Who can survive on $8.75 per hour let alone pay off your student loans? You'd be better off on welfare and Medicaid. Guess where these employed college graduates are living? Yep, back home with mom and dad too. This problem is not going away and it will likely get worse. Subprime is right in that we are alone in this, not because our problems our minuscule, but because the law school scam blogs aren't enough to fight the student loan industry and their friends in Washington.

Secretarial jobs were once relegated to high school graduates. An older lady who worked as a secretary at my high school never attended college and she has health insurance, a nice 401k plan, and makes nearly as much as the attorneys doing document review in NYC. Oh, and she's debt free and owns her home. Internships used to be a thing kids did during the summertime or the summer before starting college. Now, college students and graduates are paying thousands for a chance at an unpaid internship. The high school educated secretary with a 401k is our past. The $8.75 per hour college educated personal assistant living in her parents' garage with $100k non-dischargeable student loan debt is our future.

You do have a choice and that is to leave the country. I am not saying this as someone desperate to leave the country because of my exorbitant student loan debt. I mentioned in a previous post that even with my interest accumulating over the last year, my private loan debt is manageable and can be paid off in less than five years. The question you have to ask yourself regardless of your debt is how do you want to live your life. Do you want to spend the best years of your life semi-homeless and leeching off of your parents' dwindling retirement plan with Aunt Sallie ringing your phone every hour? Other countries, Asian countries in particular, are experiencing rapid growth. Some of these countries will be more likely to appreciate your advanced degrees than employers in the United States who take us for granted. There are programs, as I noted in a post several days ago, that provide housing, health care, and salaries that range from a small stipend to more than enough to put into savings and pay off those loans. Some of these programs will also qualify you for Income Based Repayment for your federal loans and even loan forgiveness if you work for a non-profit abroad. Living abroad is not for everyone, but if you are single and childless it is something to consider. Isn't working with health care and a small savings with the incentive to travel better than being depressed, unemployed, and tied down to student loan debt for the rest of your life?


  1. You can't just pick up and go. Try getting a work visa to a EU country. Try navigating the immigration bureaucracy in AUS, NZ, or even Canada. Unlike our toilet country, other nations actually give a crap who enters their borders, and they actually enforce their immigration laws.

  2. Anon: I mention in my last paragraph that there are non-profit, volunteering, and teaching programs Americans can apply to for a short-term working visa. That is the first step to stay in another country legally while looking for long-term employment. I recommend finding legal ways to move to a country. Some people will simply let their temporary visa expire and work under the table until they qualify for citizenship or marry a legal citizen. It takes some planning but it can be done.

  3. What programs are you referring to? I'd quite happily move abroad. I'll working on a fucking farm if necessary. Basically, if you decide to flee, you can never come back? Couldn't a judgment be enforced against you abroad just the same as here? How much will moving away actually accomplish?

  4. If you speak the language of the country you're going to, you can always teach English. I lived in Europe for years and didn't get a work permit until after I'd been there for 5 years.

  5. #3 Anon: Those are great questions and I would love to see if any of our readers have the answer to those questions. I am under the impression that creditors can't chase you down in foreign countries because it is too expensive... but not because it is impossible. I'm not clear on whether or not you can come back to the States. But this reverse trend in migration is definitely real.. I've run into more than a few last minute moving sales because the owners are moving to Europe, Singapore, etc. for work. One of my buddies went to Europe for love and got pregnant... and her child will be able to sponsor her in three years and she works under the table as a professional masseuse.

  6. Wouldn't you need to pick a country that doesn't have extradition w/the USA? Not to mention the whole regulation of borders issue & jobs that transfer. Forget living in Canada if you're a librarian; my husband has a co-worker from Canada who said they wouldn't even talk to you about being a public librarian there unless you had a minimum of 5 years experience. That co-worker currently works in NYC.

    For that matter, does legal licensing even transfer to some of these countries? Not to mention learning some foreign languages so you can get a job there. At least I have other skills, unlike people who've just been lawyers. If I recall, don't you have to prove you have marketable skills in order to get citizenship in many places?

  7. I will try to put together a post with resources for work abroad programs in the next week. I know a few but if readers have their own suggestions to add to the list, they can email me.

  8. Simple question, simple answer:

    "Isn't working with health care and a small savings with the incentive to travel better than being depressed, unemployed, and tied down to student loan debt for the rest of your life?"


    Great post Hardknocks.

  9. I wish a company would relocate me to a foreign country to make the equivalent of $100,000 US dollars. Those opportunities are out there, but it spooks a lot of people to have to leave the familiar confines of the USA.

  10. Subprime here,

    Hardknocks, thanks for reposting my article. I hope you enjoyed some of my insights.

    With regards to our problems being miniscule, what I mean is that we JD debt slaves are a very tiny class of the population. I do know that there is over 800 billion in outstanding student loan debt in America and that number is set to cross a trillion very soon. Many college grads have student loans less than 40k as they have grants, scholarships, parental assistance, and other reasons. The percentages of college grads coming out with over 100k in debt is very low. MBA'a, PHD's, doctors, and dentists have better job prospects than us JD's so that further alienates us.

    By and large the fact that Gen Y's (the lost generation) owe tons of student loan dollars will be a problem but will it get to the point where national awareness is raised? Most older people have reacted with rage and hostility when i tell them our woes. They call us spoiled and entitled. They are looking at us to fund their social security and medicare because their Mcmansion is too underwater to be sold for a profit. Now that student loans are being purchased by the Dept of Ed, that further enslaves us to the boomers. Thats why leaving, for many, is a very good option.

  11. Subprime, I really enjoyed your post. JDs are screwed more so than other majors, but this depression is going to make a lot of job fields oversaturated. As long as there are millions of 20-somethings without a job and thousands more entering higher education each year, companies have no reason to offer Gen Y's a higher salary. Millions of our generation will take debt to their grave and won't have any savings for retirement nor will we have Social Security and Medicare after the Dems and Repubs gut that program to fund their wars and corporate bailouts. There will be many more opportunities in Europe and Asia in the next decade.

  12. @ Hardknocks:

    But, it's exceedingly hard to get there. If you could get on the ground in Australia, I think you'd be hired in a matter of weeks. Now, you would probably not be hired as a lawyer; but, you might have a chance at passing yourself off as what you are: someone who completed a rigorous degree program and who has the practical managerial skills to be an asset to a business. But, try to get on the ground in Australia. It's impossible. Even in a hot economy, businesses don't want to bring people in from abroad, and, if they do, they're going to do it for a reason, namely because you have a particular expertise they can't train for.

    You know, part of me really doesn't get this. Granted, I didn't attend the highest ranked school, but I did fairly well, and, quite frankly, I look around at some of the functional idiots who do have jobs (which I would happily take) and who aren't doing much with them, and - despite everything I know about the misperceptions "out there" about law school and working in law firms - I'm still confused why exactly I'm worthless. Apart from the belief that working in a firm is a fucking, all-expenses-paid hoot, the other popular belief about lawy is that law school is unbelievably difficult and that lawyers, though they be assholes, are actually good businesspeople. And so, while I do get that employers believe I'm lying when I say in CAPS in the header and footer (just to be sure) of all my cover letters - I DON'T WANT TO BE A FUCKING LAWYER. I'D RATHER BE A LEPER. AND, ANYWAY, GETTING PAID FOR HATING YOURSELF AS A HUMAN BEING IS NOT AN APPROPRIATE FORM OF STREET CRED - what I don't get is why they never at least give law graduates the opportunity to interview and convince them that they're not going to run back to Mommy BigLaw as soon as the economy turns around. I really don't think any of us would do that at this point because let's be clear: I'm not upset about not being a lawyer. I don't care. Frankly, I'm quite thankful for the recession in that respect. What I am upset about, however, is what you have pointed out, which is that I was sold - basically - a piece of paper which only really serves to keep me from doing what I want to do.

    -#3 Anon

  13. Congress is OWNED by the corporate interests - lock, stock, and barrel. The Big Banks have a stranglehold on the country - and a death grip on our throats.

    So, I do not see any great legislative programs in place, especially with a president who is too afraid to be seen as a "socialist." (Frankly, the man could add another $100 billion to the military's budget - and still be cast as a dyed in the wool communist, by Fox "News".) If you are unemployed and overqualified; underemployed; or stuck making $10-$15 an hour, the best remaining option is to flee - if you can get into another country.

    Most nations have an extradition treaty with the U.S. - but not paying your bills is not the equivalent of committing a serious crime. I think Iceland does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S. - remember Bobby Fisher lived out the remaining years of his life there. Plus, the women are hot. I dated a girl from there - she was three shades darker than me - I thought she was Hispanic at first. Anyway, one of the most smoldering, hot women I have ever had the pleasure of intimately knowing. I am talking ridiculously hot! (Angel will probably get mad at me for saying this on her blog - but oh well.) What is funny is that she actually wanted to "marry" me - but I only knew her for a couple of months, and her visa was getting ready to expire.

    Back to the main issue: I do think it would be tough for an American to get into a European nation, i.e. "Why hire an outsider when we have plenty of citizens with similar skills?" Plus, they may have valid concerns that you may take off and return to the U.S., whereas we have the reverse problem of educated foreigners who intentionally overstay their student and H-1B visas.

  14. Better to live debt-free** in a foreign country making minimum wage doing something you like than live deeply-indebted in America making minimum wage doing something you hate. And the legal market for unemployed attorneys is ONLY getting worse, as more and more JDs are being pumped out every day and more and more legal jobs are being outsourced to India every day.

    **"Debt-free" meaning no U.S. collection agency will bother spending the time/money/effort to look for you, because even if they find you, they have to hire an expensive foreign firm to try and convince a foreign judge to garnish your minimum wage check or attach your foreign bank account.
    Of course if you still have assets in the U.S., like a big savings account, then that's a different issue.

    Keep in mind, as a U.S. citizen, you are still required under the law to report to the I.R.S. any income you make abroad. But that's a good thing. If your loans are IBR-eligible, you can probably get your loan payment lowered significantly, using your new tax returns as proof of your lower income.

  15. Guys, the same thing is happening in all of the sciences/engineering fields. This country is really falling apart. We are all suckers. I got my science Ph.D. at 28 (quite a feat) and had a buttload of work experience in several domains---guess what...overqualified for everything...and you have to move 1000s of miles at your own expense to get a 36K 1 year soft money (grant) contract.

    Though I graduated in 2000, I wake up every day a little bit depressed. I have had my loans on deferment nonstop---I have no damn intention of
    paying them back...just file the paper work.

    This country really, really hates its young.

  16. #16 Anon: This country is coming apart at the seams, slowly but surely. That is why regardless of your amount of debt, young people should seriously consider leaving the country for better opportunities. It's ridiculous that a science Ph.D can't find you a good job. It just goes to show you how the U.S. is squandering its best resources.

  17. A large part of the "educational scam" is no scam at all, it is mostly a simple example of supply and demand, as far as I've been able to tell. There are really just too many people with advanced degrees, in large part because it has become so easy to get such degrees. Too many people are deciding early on that taking on student loans is easy and that those loans will just as easily be paid off once the degree is attained. Guess what: that was a mistaken assumption in most cases.

    As to your suggestion that folks with large amounts of [educational] debt would/could/should simply pick up and leave for another country, leaving said debt behind, I am disappointed. No, I am not a law student; I instead went through an engineering program. But regardless, I apparently understand more of the intention of some laws more than some schooled folks, i.e. if you take out a loan, YOU SHOULD PAY IT BACK. I and my classmates [17 of us] came out with Bachelor's degrees; only 2 of us are not employed in the engineering field. We all lack law experience, but we all also realize that those loans we took out are somebody's money, and our actions have consequences.

  18. #18 Anon: Fuck you and your holier than thou attitude sticking up for corporate loan sharks like Sallie Mae and Access Group. I have a T14 degree and can't find a job. Only about half of the people graduating from schools like Columbia and Northwestern are finding jobs right now. Many of us plan to leave the country because THERE ARE NO JOBS TO PAY BACK OUR LOANS. You don't seem to understand that. Get off our blog if you can't sympathize with the millions of unemployed just because you were lucky enough to get and keep your job. Fuck you.

  19. Gang,

    This leaving the country thing is a lot easier said than done. Even the english-teaching jobs have tremendous competition, and you're also competing against seasoned professionals who want to do "something different"

    Once your work visa expires you'll have to either leave or remain as an illegal worker. Most of these places don't want to keep you around for a lifetime. China, for instance, refuses to keep any english teacher for longer than a couple years - they want the kids exposed to other native speakers.

    Good luck getting a foreign work visa if you can network while you're there - possible, but easier said than done. Also, you may regret burning bridges with the US down the road, especially with the IRS.

  20. Wow, #16 above, a PhD at the age of 28, has me beat. I can't believe you're still in America.

    My one-way flight leaves July 3rd. Who's coming with me??

  21. What a crowd ... can't do this can't do that ... hopeless attitude

  22. I thought about moving too.
    School loans are dischargable in a Canadian bankruptcy. In the UK school loans are not dischargable for natives, but this only applies to school loans from the UK - a US based loan is 100% dischargable. Australia and New Zealand may have a similar loophole, but I haven't checked.
    The problem is that moving to these countries appears to be a real hassle. And they don't let you visit with the idea of looking for a job without first getting a work permit (catch-22). I have found that Germany does let you look for a job as a visitor, but I don't speak German. And I don't think the BK laws in Germany favour discharge.
    What to do?

  23. Hi Hardknocks and Subprime JD - I just found your blogs after reading the NYTimes article. Good reading.

    I am an attorney, and after working as a solo practioner for a year after graduation, I did in fact flee. I have now have lived abroad in South American for a year. I plan to stay.

    I was in a relationship with a South American PhD student (now professor in SA) so that has made the transition easier.

    But it can be tough...the loan companies will harass your parents, even though your parents are not cosigners. Your parents will be confused. We won't ever get legally married, as I don't want to fuck his credit - I guess the banks down here would figure it out.

    But my quality of life is higher. Finding lots of work under the table is a breeze. Health care is excellent. I didn't want to slave away for a fucked up loan ponzi sceme I didn't even really understand when I was admitted. I miss my family, but I have a family here now...

    Has anyone else actually done this?

  24. I'm in the process of trying to go overseas. I'm looking for wordwide health insurance and if accepted getting my E-2 visa. I completely agree with the blog post and feel that it is time to go. Other reasons is I have a home, I do have other family members who live with me in my home, and they need a stable place to live because they are not in the best of places right now eiether. So me being in the process of leaving the country is a good thing for everyone. It sucks that this country doesn't reconize its own talent that it has within its citizens that do have bad background checks or slightly bad credit reports. America needs to realize that people aren't perfect and there is no such thing as a "perfect canidate". HR directors need to adjust their hiring practices...but until that time me and my degree, work experience, and slightly bad credit rating will be overseas HAPPY.

  25. I completly agree with this post, Im 39 with a assoc im computer aided drafting and a bach in business and the job market is brutal, ive obtained a class a cdl and drive a truck and im 70k in student loan debt, i look at leaving the us as my only option, to work abroad i got a dive master cert so i can work at a scuba shop or on a boat, this country in deep trouble w the illegals, did construction for 14 years and the mexicans and bad housing market put me out of business, go to school to get a degree to make 10 bucks an hour, what a joke of a system, good luck people and remember you only get ONE life:)



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