Upon getting our undergraduate degrees, both my wife and I had ~$35k each in loans. We both worked in college (me up to ~50 hours/week my senior year) and I lived off campus to help control costs. We both just got talked into private colleges. The income base repayment options weren't available, so what we did to make it through our 20's was to take turns continuing our education to postpone payment on one of our sets of loans (her first then me). This of course gave us more debt and caused interest to accrue on the deferred loans (Interest being the biggest killer - we have 1 loan that we have paid almost $30k on and still owe more than the original balance). We kept costs low for our Masters (state schools, tuition only - no room / board, skip buying as many books as we could) having learned our lesson. My wife also picked up an associates in business when we used community college to keep the deferral going instead of graduate programs.I don't know if these loan options were available in the early 2000's, but I know they were in the later 200's, but now you have loan options that are paid based on your income level. The point being as you said that in your 20's and early 30's your loan repayment cut into your income, but with these kinds of loan repayment options they are capped at a certain percentage of your income so as you earn more money, you pay more of your loan balance down and if you make less money, you have a smaller payment to make so it bases your payment on a small percentage of your yearly income. Also, I have a Masters degree worth of student loan debt tied to my name and there are also loan forgiveness options as well. If you pay your student loan balance dutifully for a certain period of time (20 years from what I have seen is the most common) the rest of your student loan after that time period will be forgiven. Even then, I think there are better options than student loan forgiveness to address the issue at hand such as income share agreements where students agree to pay a certain percentage of their income for a certain number of years. In exchange, the lender pays for their education. If the borrower winds up not able to find a job after graduating then they pay almost nothing, and if they get a job that pays 6 figures after they graduate, the deal will probably be lucrative for the investor. In particularly bad years the loan is paused and it helps the lender (because these low-paying years are replaced with higher-paying ones later) and if a student really hits it big, he might hit the repayment cap ( sometimes 2.5 times the amount of the loan) and be done paying early. Currently, these agreements typically collect 3-15% of the borrowers’ income for 5 to 15 years, though of course, those numbers are malleable to account for different students’ situations.
I am going to presume that before your decision to pursue your masters, your level of student loan debt was manageable, but once you decided to continue on and get a post-graduate degree, your student loans skyrocketed after that. At that point, you were no longer a teenager, probably more along the lines of 21 or 22 years old and you had a more decent idea of what it is you wanted to get out of your life. As I had mentioned earlier 1/4 of the increase in student loan debt has been due to people pursuing post-graduate degrees which is something that most people discuss with their parents or professors or friends and look at this and see if they actually want to do that. These decision-making processes can be addressed through other means that aren't related to student loan forgiveness though. At some point, you have to be able to make a decision as an adult and even at 17 and 18, we make life-impacting decisions outside of our college choices.
Once we hit our 30's, our incomes had come up some and we were past most of the daycare costs so we were able to get fully into repayment (~$1200/mo., 1 loan goes up every 2 years, but we will have a couple of the private loans paid off in a few years - right before our oldest goes to college)
Edit: I fully accept the outcome of our decisions and don't expect / want any loan forgiveness for me. I do want those younger than me, who faced even higher costs, and those yet to go to school to have a brighter future. I will gladly pay higher taxes for that.