It has been said that if the U.S. catches a cold, the Black community catches the flu. Historically in the United States, communities of color feel the negative impacts of policy decisions disproportionately, and the student debt crisis is no exception. Nearly 45 million Americans owe on federal student loans.
According to researcher Melanie Hanson of the Education Data Initiative, Black borrowers are more likely to default on student loans and have higher monthly payments. Four years after graduation, half of them owe on average 12.5 percent more than they originally borrowed. This means that despite having a college education, Black graduates will be more likely to struggle to make ends meet — perpetuating the cycle of poverty we were led to believe college education would free us from. Black borrowers also have lower familial wealth and post-college income, making debt harder to pay off and contributing to a higher debt-to-income ratio.
Canceling student debt broadly would not only stimulate the U.S. economy from the ground up, but would also offer a pathway to economic and social justice for a demographic that has been historically marginalized and denied access to the things most commonly associated with “the American Dream.”
In the wake of massive worldwide protests calling for justice in all facets of life following the murder of George Floyd, conversations about undoing systemic harm became common. Knowing that the presidency could only be won with the support of Black, Brown and millennial voters, then-candidate Joe Biden made promises that he would address many of these injustices. Some of his promises have been thwarted on Capitol Hill. But canceling student debt is an action that President Biden can take under broad authority granted to the executive branch by the Higher Education Act of 1965. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has been loudly and publicly calling on Biden to use this authority to cancel up to $50,000 in federal college debt for each individual carrying that much debt.
By one estimate, a cancellation of student debt would result in an increase in Black wealth of nearly 40 percent. This — coupled with other equity-driven policies surrounding consumer debt, mortgage financing and credit reporting — would significantly level the playing field for Black borrowers.
However, if student debt loan repayments resume in May as planned without massive debt cancellation, it will cost borrowers $85 billion annually, and borrowers of color would be disproportionately impacted.
The #WithoutStudentDebtCampaign, being hosted by RootsAction.org along with a growing coalition of other groups, will encourage borrowers to envision what life would be like if President Biden took this bold step for racial and economic justice — and to organize for making that possibility a reality.
For more information and to join the movement visit Progressive Hub.