March 8, 2021

Why student loan debt is a racial, gendered issue

Why student loan debt is a racial, gendered issue

“It’s a social justice issue and racial equity issue.” Women carry two-thirds of the $1.7 trillion Americans owe in student loan debt. Black women are more likely to carry higher amounts of loan debt that fall into delinquency.

Video Transcript

AYANA MORGAN-WOODARD: My name is Ayana Morgan-Woodard. I am the class of 2020 from the illustrious Tuskegee University, and I have about $30,000 in loan debt.

REINA GARAY SOLIS: My name Reina Garay Solis. I graduated class of 2020 from UC Santa Cruz, and I have $15,000 in student loan debt.

Ferinda and Ayana, two first generation college graduate, both women of color, the current polls on student loan debt payments extended through September by the Biden administration has been a lifeline.

AYANA MORGAN-WOODARD: Wow, that is a big number that I don’t have in my own account, but somehow, I have to pay it back.

REINA GARAY SOLIS: When did it officially hit me, as in, like, a monetary value, I would say, probably, like, last month. Just because that’s when it started that I actually had to pay it.

The feeling of drowning in a tsunami of student loan debt is a familiar one for many black and Latino women. Women, especially black women, are more likely to graduate with student loan debt and struggle with repayment. Women, on average, graduate with $2,700 more in student loan debt than their male counterparts. The gender pay gap makes it even tougher to pay those loans down with black women paid only $0.63 on the dollar compared to white men. Latina women take home even less at $0.55 on the dollar.

CHRISTOPHER NELLUM: It’s certainly a social justice issue, and we would also call it a racial equity issue.

Christopher Nellum is the Deputy Director of Research and Policy at the nonprofit Education Trust West, just one of the education policy groups, pushing the Biden administration for complete student loan debt forgiveness. Something he calls a forever pause on payments.

CHRISTOPHER NELLUM: The magic number is forgive it all, so that we don’t have to think about student debt.

JOE BIDEN: I will not make that happen.

But as recently as last month, during a CNN Town Hall, the president rejected a proposal by top congressional Democrats.

We have met with the president. We are pushing the president and his people.

Aimed at eliminating $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

JOE BIDEN: I’m prepared to write off the $10,000 debt, but not 50.

If the decision sticks, it would be a major blow to women of color, disproportionately affected by the debt crisis. Black women, who borrow for their education, graduate with an average of $37,000 in student loan debt compared to $29,000 for white men who borrowed. Loans carried by black women are also more likely to fall into delinquency or default.

AYANA MORGAN-WOODARD: Looking at numbers, it would be really, really hard to actually make a $300 payment on a $30,000 loan.

Nellum said, student loan debt forgiveness in some degree is just the first step in creating equitable outcomes for black and brown women who often take on more debt to gain advanced degrees just to be hired for the same jobs as a man with less schooling.

CHRISTOPHER NELLUM: This is not about individuals making poor decisions. These individuals are making very rational decisions about getting a college education. We have systematically failed to support them.

A systemic failure that could be corrected by systemic change. Ayana wants to be a teacher. And Reina, who’s applying to master’s programs, hope permanent relief is in their future.

AYANA MORGAN-WOODARD: I can’t even think about wanting to buy a house. I can’t even think really too much about buying, you know, a car that’s really in my name. Because I have a loan that I’m going to have to end up paying back. That might get in the way.

REINA GARAY SOLIS: A determinant for someone’s education shouldn’t be their finances. I think it would remove a lot of limits for some people, myself included.

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