“Up to Us” Movement Raises Awareness about National Debt


Michael Blevin

The Peter G. Peterson Foundation, along with Net Impact and the Clinton Global Initiative University, have sponsored the “Up to Us” college competition at Wake Forest this semester. “Up to Us” is a rapidly growing, nonpartisan movement of young people who are passionate about raising awareness of the national debt.

Since its inception in 2011, “Up to Us” has engaged nearly 150,000 people through over 400 college teams.

This semester, teams from over 60 universities nationwide will be hosting events to educate young people on the economic impacts that the national debt brings. In the past, teams have hosted trivia nights, documentary screenings and debates to raise awareness on the issue.

This semester, the Wake Forest “Up to Us” team will be competing to collect signatures to ask representatives to be more fiscally responsible and to consider the economic consequences of the debt. Each team has a chance to receive cash prizes, meet with key policy leaders, travel to Washington D.C. and attend other top-tier national conferences.

On the weekend of Feb. 10, the Wake Forest “Up to Us” team attended the Up to Us conference in Oakland, CA. Over 50 team leaders from across the country came to the conference to discuss the national debt and their plans for the competition. The weekend included speeches from recent “Up to Us” alumni, including George Batah, who made headlines in 2015 when he wrote a petition to increase the number of Syrian refugees allowed in the U.S. The petition garnered over 300,000 signatures and enacted policy change. Batah spoke on how “Up to Us” gave him critical leadership and team management skills that has granted him success in his career at Deloitte.

The conference gave attendees the opportunity to discuss issues with a diverse range of perspectives. Teams hailed from Fordham University, the University of Notre Dame, University of California Irvine and more. 

“Understanding the big picture of the long-term national debt and its influence on our everyday lives as not just students, but also Americans, is what I believe to be the starting point for millennials to have better personal finance,” sophomore Shawna Tuli said. “In the realm of politics and changing government, financial literacy is a necessity every person should be equipped with.”

“Up to Us” is the only nationwide campus-based campaign focused on the national debt. “Up to Us” is committed to a nonpartisan approach to ensure that students from any political background can get involved. The competition stresses a factual, unbiased approach that looks to unite young people under a common goal. Lowering the debt economically means increasing taxes, lowering government spending or both. “Up to Us” believes that the only way to solve the issue is to generate enough awareness so voters elect officials who will tackle the debt.

“Up to Us” specifically targets young people. The debt is currently $20.6 trillion and growing every day. If current policies continue, the Congressional Budget Office predicts that the debt will reduce family incomes by $16,000 by 2047.

Robert Whaples, a professor in the Department of Economics, commented on the debt.

“It should concern everyone, but particularly younger people, because a high debt makes higher future taxes or lower government spending inevitable — especially when interest rates climb from their current low level and payments on the debt balloon,” Whaples said. “If the rising debt-to-GDP level isn’t reversed and political gridlock on the topic persists, the U.S. government could eventually face bankruptcy, so this issue is extremely serious.”

On Feb. 13, National Intelligence Director Daniel Coats also stated that the national debt “represents a dire threat to our economic and national security.”