When 23-year-old high school art teacher Annah Jane Paschall found out that her $90,000 pile of student loans were being paid off, she was stunned.
“There’s been very few times in my life where I have felt physical — like emotional weight — physically lifted,” Paschall, who was chosen by skincare brand First Aid Beauty’s campaign to pay off $1.3 million in student loans, told Yahoo Finance. “Going into marriage, thinking wow, I hate that I’m bringing in so much debt… a lot of dreams and ideas either felt like just a little bit tarnished because of the debt that I had.”
Stories like Paschall’s are why Democrats in Congress are intensifying their push for student debt cancellation by urging President-elect Joe Biden to instruct the Education Department to forgive up to $50,000 in federally-held student debt for roughly 43 million American borrowers after he’s sworn in.
And a new pair of national surveys, provided exclusively to Yahoo Finance, show that more than half of Americans across the political spectrum support government action to address the student loan crisis, which includes $1.55 trillion in federally-held student debt as of Q3 2020.
Survey by group shows support for cancellation
A national survey by Data for Progress and the Justice Collaborative (DPJC), which polled 1,104 likely voters between September 18 and 19 across age, gender, education, and voting history, found that 55% of voters support cancellation of all student loan debt.
The support was strongest among Democrats, with 68% in support of cancelling all student debt that people have. Recently, four House Democrats joined Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in calling for a $50,000 cut per borrower.
And even 52% of Republicans said they either “strongly support” or “somewhat support” cancelling all debt currently held by American borrowers.
Cancellation “has moved from the far-out fringe of higher education policy reforms to the center of the policy debate, and it could become actual executive branch policy in the very near future,” Marshall Steinbaum, author of a report highlighting the survey findings, told Yahoo Finance. And based on the data, Steinbaum added, “public opinion research consistently shows broad popular support for student debt cancellation, including among non-borrowers.”
Other surveys had similar findings: 60% of 1,873 registered voters who responded to a Hill-HarrisX poll in mid-November said they would support Biden cancelling up to $50,000 in student loan debt. That poll also revealed a generational divide: 73% of voters between 18 to 34 years old supported the measure, while 54% of voters above 65 opposed it.
The DPJC survey also found that 85% of respondents supported cancelling up to $20,000 in debt, including 76% of Republicans and 84% of Independents.
A follow-up DPJC survey, which polled 1,080 likely voters between December 4 and December 6 across age, gender, education, and voting history, found that 55% of voters across the board supported the idea of a Biden administration unilaterally cancelling some amount of student debt.
“The way I see it, we have a responsibility and a moral obligation to act,” Warren argued. “We owe it to our fellow Americans to address this crisis head-on.”
The next education secretary — who has not yet been nominated but is reported to be Connecticut Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona — would be able to implement forgiveness, Schumer noted, adding there would be no tax liability associated with the cancelled debt.
“President Biden can undo this debt — can forgive $50,000 of [student] debt — the first day he becomes president,” Schumer said. “You don’t need Congress. All you need is the flick of a pen.”
And while 77% of Democrats told DPJC that they would “strongly support” or “somewhat support” a Biden executive action to cancel student debt, 51% of Independents and 34% of Republicans agreed.
Another poll by YouGov of 7,142 adults on November 18 found that 56% of Americans supported forgiveness via executive order. This group even included Americans who “never had student loans,” with 23% supporting cancellation.
Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), another popular Democrat, pointed out that a disproportionate number of student borrowers in America are people of color.
“Student loan cancellation is a matter of racial and economic justice across our country,”she argued. “Black student borrowers are forced to borrow more than their white peers and are five times more likely to default on us to it alone.”
‘I feel more free in my life’
Addressing the sentiment that student debt cancellation would be unfair to people who have previously paid their loans in full, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten argued that the situation for college graduates is clearly different today.
“For all of us who’ve already paid our student loan debt who say, ‘Well, if we paid it, why can’t kids right now pay it?’ — it’s much more burdensome right now, and there’s very few job opportunities right now,” Weingarten told Yahoo Finance Live (video above).
Some experts argue that student debt cancellation would have a stimulus-like effect on the economy, which would vastly aid the economic recovery during this coronavirus-induced recession.
And for Paschall, the 23-year-old art teacher who saw $90,000 in student debt vanish, the payoff has changed the way she thought about money.
“There are just different things I’d like to do, or different things I’d like to invest in that I now have the ability to, cause I don’t have this debt anymore,” she said. “And I don’t feel as fearful going to the doctor or paying for a higher treatment because I have the money. I feel more free in my life.”
Aarthi is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.
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