Hasan Minhaj contains multitudes. In the same breath, he can make a joke about cake shows on Netflix, he can also berate Congress for their relative inaction on solving the student loan debt crisis that has left 44.7 million Americans saddled with a collective $1.56 trillion in debt, according to NBC News and a 2018 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
“This issue is sidelining millions of Americans. People are putting off marriage, kids, homeownership, and retirement — especially my generation,” Minhaj, the host and executive producder of Netflix's Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, told the House Financial Services Committee on September 10. He was invited to speak because he focused on student loan debt during an episode of his show in February 2019.
He pointed out that during that episode, he surveyed the people in attendance and found that the 200-person audience owed a collective $6 million in student loan debt.
“Now granted, our audience is mainly unemployed poli-sci majors, but that's still a lot of money,” Minhaj joked. There was not a lot of laughter by the committee.
He went on to prove the point that college has objectively just gotten more expensive by telling each of the legislators on the committee how much they paid for college when they attended and how much that would have cost today. “You paid far less for your degrees,” Minhaj said, adding that adjusting for inflation, from the time the committee members went to college to today, there has been “a 110 percent increase over a period of time when wages have gone up only 16 percent.”
“We’ve put up a paywall to the middle class,” the comedian said before saying that American's shouldn’t have to have a Netflix-style paywall for their lives. “That’s why we put our entire show for free on YouTube. It's also because you can’t find anything on Netflix. It's like the lost and found bin of entertainment,” he added. Again, not much laughter. It seemed no one in the room really knew what to do with any of his jokes, which is their loss and not his.
“I think it's a huge problem that the youth of America have to bombard their favorite rapper or pop musician and ask them to pay back their student loans,” Minhaj said, adding: “They're not even asking for selfies anymore. Are you a fan of Taylor Swift? Are you a Swiftie? Even her fans have gone up to her and asked if she would pay off her student loans. That's how desperate student borrowers are.”
Minhaj’s testimony wasn’t the only interesting thing to happen at the hearing, which was meant to discuss the CFPB Student Loan Integrity and Transparency Act and the Transforming Student Debt to Home Equity Act: New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez literally opened her bank account and made a payment towards her student loan debt during the hearing.
"I literally made a student loan payment while I was sitting here at this chair, and I looked at my balance, and it was $20,237.16," she said. "I just made a payment that took me down to $19,000 so I feel really accomplished right now."