[Opinion] – Making sense of $700 billion

The foggy situation on Wall Street has been called one of the worst since Sept. 11, 2001, the economic slump during the 1970s and even the Great Depression. No doubt youâÄôre confused. ItâÄôs a crisis that grew out of complete confusion. What happened? Over the past year, private financial institutions have been on shaky ground. According to Adam Davidson, National Public RadioâÄôs correspondent for international business and economics, private banks had overestimated the worth of complicated investments and many admitted that they were unsure of how much money they actually had. It turned out, some of them were completely broke, others seriously ill. In an effort to keep our economy afloat, the federal government decided that they would lend a hand âÄî a very big hand. On Saturday, The Bush administration proposed a $700 billion bailout to buy âÄútoxic debtâÄù from failing private financial institutions. How much is $700 billion? ItâÄôs nearly equal to the total spent on the Iraq war, says The New York Times. ItâÄôs $115 billion more than our national defense budget for the 2009 fiscal year. It would increase the U.S. Federal debt by 7.2 percent, totaling $10.4 trillion if passed, shows the U.S. National Debt Clock. And according to NPR, itâÄôs the largest amount of money requested for a single program in history. Where would this money come from? You. Sorry to say, but U.S. taxpayers will be footing the bill for the faults of these foolish financial institutions. How does this affect the college student? You probably donâÄôt have a financial portfolio, a mortgage or a retirement plan, but this crisis affects the economy and in turn affects things like inflation, the value of the dollar and the job market. Are we in a recession? Maybe. (WhatâÄôs a recession? A substantial decline in economic growth that lasts for more than six months and generally sees high unemployment, less retail spending, and slow markets for cars and housing). Is inflation going to rise? Well itâÄôs almost always rising, but how much? The U.S. inflation calculator shows that since 2001 inflation has increased an average three percent per year, and is currently up five percent in 2008. Inflation is measured in change in price from year to year. Are my lattés going to cost more? Hopefully not. What about groceries? A poor economy is evident at the cash register, but food has been on the rise for a while. You donâÄôt eat out as much as you used to and youâÄôre more decisive at the grocery store. You might splurge on a $5 pack of mock chicken patties and organic produce, but overall your spending habits are adapting and you buy less junk. How weak is the dollar? The dollar has decreased significantly since Sept. 11, 2001. The Federal Reserve states that in September of 2001, the exchange rate was around 1.2 dollars to the euro. It is now only 0.68 percent. What if IâÄôm planning on studying abroad? Transportation will be expensive and your money will go fast. You will notice when you go to an ATM to take out $500 and you only get 345 Euros in return. How does inflation affect my loans? Along with an increased cost of living, the UniversityâÄôs Office of Institutional Research reports that tuition at the University has jumped 43.2 percent for resident undergraduates and 51.5 percent for nonresident undergraduates over the past 10 years. As tuition rises, many students turn to dangerously high private loans and credit that can have variable interest rates up to 20 percent, according to USA Today. Am I going to get a job when I graduate? Sure âÄî if you have five years experience and a graduate degree. If not, get an internship, get feisty and be prepared to work at a temp agency, because all that debt is on its way in manageable monthly increments, along with rent and car insurance and health care and gas money and food. But weâÄôll adapt. This is America. WeâÄôre resilient. Ashley Goetz welcomes comments at [email protected].