AOC and Bernie Have a Plan to Take on Loan Sharks. It's a Game Changer for Young People.

Sean McElwee (@SeanMcElwee) and Aidan Smith (@AidanSmith2019)

In a March 2019 clip that only garnered widespread attention months after the fact, finance guru Suze Orman insisted that the financial hardships of the millennial generation could be traced to their purportedly irresponsible coffee-consumption habits. While the well-deserved mockery she received tended to point out glaring truths about generational inequality, very little coverage of her comments identified a more amusing irony of Orman's backstory: She derives her legitimacy as a self-help guru from her struggles during her upbringing, but was privileged enough to have received a loan of $50,000 from friends, interest-free. The problem for millennials is not their individual choices but the structural policies holding them back. Therefore, the solution is policy, not pedantic life advice. The recent Loan Shark Prevention Act introduced by AOC and Bernie Sanders is a crucial and popular first step towards a solution.

The average millennial, financially precarious and victimized by usury, couldn't conceive of such a proposition. A 2018 survey by CNBC found that 51% of millennials have at least considered taking payday loans to make ends meet, despite the enormous APR associated with so-called "cash advances." While abstaining from coffee might put a couple bucks back in the pockets of young people, it is  laughable that the record one trillion dollars of credit-card debt that the millennial generation accumulated would be meaningfully reduced by altered caffeine habits.

Fresh off launching the once-novel Green New Deal proposal into the mainstream, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is back with another monumental effort, this time accompanied by Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders: a bill to cap credit-card interest rates at 15%.

The historic anti-usury legislation hits loan sharks where it hurts while allowing tens of thousands of post offices to double as banks for lower-class Americans stranded in banking deserts. Credit-card rates stand at around 17% on average, with rates of up to 23% being widespread. This is an egregious situation that naturally benefits financial institutions over the welfare of common citizens, and as advocates of the bill point out, banks are currently permitted to borrow 2.5% per annum from the Federal Reserve, rendering the rates they charge on credit-card holders undeniably usurious.

Even more appalling are the practices of payday lenders, whose loans charge, on average, a whopping 667% in Ohio, with similar numbers seen in Texas and Utah. In 2018, Colorado progressives scored a major victory on the November ballot: an overwhelming vote in favor of capping payday-loan rates at 36%. The arrangement is preferable to the national status quo, though it still leaves the financial fates of millions up to predatory lenders.

Not only is the Loan Shark Prevention Act good policy, it's great politics. Polling from Data for Progress shows widespread support for the bill across the electorate. Sixty-four percent of both Democrats and Republicans surveyed indicated approval of Ocasio-Cortez's legislation. Similar patterns were detected when analyzing the responses of participants by gender, with both men (61%) and women (68%) displaying high levels of support. Respondents in urban, rural, and suburban areas all responded with sweeping levels of support, with approval ratings of 64%, 62%, and 65%, respectively. It is difficult to find anything less than overwhelming support for the policy among any pocket of the electorate.


When a policy enjoys such universal support, presidential hopefuls ought to be wary of opposing it. More so, in an era when debilitating economic hardship and uncertainty in the labor market is becoming the norm, it's simply unconscionable for our political class to sit idly by as the most vulnerable Americans fall prey to deceiving, "short-term" loans.

Sean McElwee (@SeanMcElwee) is a co-founder of Data for Progress.

Aidan Smith (@AidanSmith2019) is a writer and electoral analyst from Orange County, California.

This item fielded as part of YouGov Blue’s registered-voter omnibus, a survey fielded from May 31-June 3, 2019 on YouGov’s online panel. The survey included 1,057 US voters weighted to be representative of the population of voters by age, race/ethnicity, sex, education, US Census region, and 2016 vote choice. The survey-wide margin of error is +/-2.2 percent.

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