The Student Loan Crisis Is a Racial Inequality Issue
Spoiler alert: Having intergenerational wealth helps a lot
This week, President-elect Joe Biden affirmed his support during a press conference for erasing some student loan debt “immediately.” Biden repeated his support for the HEROES Act, which calls for the federal government to pay off up to $10,000 in private, nonfederal student loans for “economically distressed” borrowers as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. While Senate Democrats are pushing for more debt relief, with Elizabeth Warren advocating for the next president to forgive up to $50,000 of debt per borrower, a crucial aspect of the effects of student loan debt is being overlooked: its role in reinforcing the racial wealth gap.
“Student loan debt has a tight relationship with racial inequality and particularly the racial wealth gap,” Suzanne Kahn, director of education, jobs, and worker power and the Great Democracy Initiative at the Roosevelt Institute and co-author of a paper that exposes how student loan debt reinforces the racial wealth gap, told ZORA. “Because Black and Brown students typically have less family wealth to draw on when they start school, they take out larger loans; when Black and Brown students graduate, they face racial discrimination in wages and job placement that make it more difficult to pay off their loans. As a result, one study found that 12 years after entering college, the median Black borrower had made no progress in paying down their loans; in fact, the balance had actually increased.”
Black women specifically are reported to have the highest student loan debt of any racial or ethnic group, according to a study by the American Association of University Women. For recent Black graduate and freelance writer Yannise Jean, 24, the impending deadline to start paying her $45,000 student loan debt in January 2021 coupled with an increasingly unstable job market during a pandemic conjures up a depressing future and an expensive present. “In terms of my future life and plans, I live in NYC, so just breathing the air here is expensive,” she said. “I live with my parents right now, and if I choose to pay their recommended monthly payments, I might not ever really have a place to call my own. It’s frustrating to be in a country that pushes a…