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Student loan debt hanging over many Mass. residents

Almost half of Massachusetts residents have at least a bachelor’s degree, but the cost of that education is a growing challenge, particularly in lower-income communities, according to a new community survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

Student loan debt climbed two spots from last fall to become the sixth-biggest concern among social service providers in New England, surpassing worries about K-12 education and federal budget cuts, according to the survey.

“The problem isn’t just the existence of debt but the amount of debt as the cost of higher education continues to outpace inflation and does not appear to be slowing,” the report found.

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The survey, conducted twice a year, measures the pulse of 135 groups that work in economic development, affordable housing, and human services throughout New England. Overall, the survey found that these groups were optimistic about the region’s economy, with nearly three-quarters of them expecting New England to add jobs over the next five years.

The region’s concentration of colleges and universities also should help ensure that “the right workers for the right jobs [are] well within the reach in New England as regional and local economic development efforts gain momentum.”

Still, the high price of education is worrisome, the survey said. Nationally, the average cost of getting a four-year degree more than doubled to $99,000 in 2014 from $42,000 in 1982 while student debt has reached $1.2 trillion, according to government statistics.

Weighed down by student loan debt, young people are having a hard time finding jobs that can help them pay off those loans, with unemployment for adults between 20 to 24 years old hovering at 10 percent, compared to about 5 percent for all workers, according to the survey. One-third of New England residents between the 25 and 29 years old have been unable to complete college but still have the debt.

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That means young adults will likely delay other significant financial decisions, including buying cars or homes.

“The cost of educating the next generation will be borne not only by the next generation but also by the broader economy,” says the report.


Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.