America has a cold, then the Black community has the flu,” said
explaining how the burden
of student debt
disproportionately borne by African Americans. Walton, who famously
campaigned on a socialist platform to beat
a Democratic incumbent
last year’s mayoral primary race in Buffalo, New York, is now a
senior strategic organizer with RootsAction.org
the organization’s “Without
“Forty-seven million Americans carry student debt, but the
burden of the debt falls disproportionately on Black and Brown
people,” she said.
to the Education
out of the 47 million Americans that Walton cited, about 92 percent
of them (43 million Americans) have borrowed more than $1.6 trillion
from the U.S. government in order to access higher education. The
average federal loan size per borrower is $37,113, but when factoring
in loans from private borrowers, that number rises to more than
of how the income and wealth gap is so starkly delineated along
it’s not at all surprising that Black and Brown students are
disproportionately represented among student borrowers. Women are
also the majority of borrowers. Those at the intersection of race and
gender are most impacted. “The average Black woman carries more
than $35,000 in student debt,” said Walton.
simple reason why nearly
all undergraduates borrow money from the federal government in order
to attend college or university is that the cost of higher education
has risen dramatically. According to one
it has risen nearly five times faster than inflation over the past
half-century. And, if the price tag of higher education were in line
with inflation, it would cost only about $10,000 or $20,000 per year
to attend a public or private four-year school, respectively.
Instead, while public universities are still relatively less pricey,
private schools can cost upward
wages haven’t kept up with the skyrocketing costs of higher
education, student debt has ballooned as borrowers are unable to pay
back the loans. It’s no wonder that some people consider
they face the grim prospects of being unable to pay back tens of
thousands of dollars.
turns out that student debt, just like medical debt or the inability
to pay increasing rents,
is just another feature of a capitalist, market-driven system
designed to ensure the health of Wall Street over the wellness of
people. And—it bears repeating—those financial stresses
affect people of color the most. “It’s a stain on this,
the wealthiest nation in the world, that we are not even able to
provide basic services to our people,” said Walton.
since his election, President Joe Biden has tantalized debt-burdened
Americans with indications
forgiving federal student loans. His initial campaign promise of
forgiving $50,000 in loans was dramatically downgraded to only
$10,000. Walton said, “what we’re asking for, what we’re
demanding, is that all
guaranteed student debt be canceled,” not just a portion.
media outlets are predictably doing their part to help Biden water
down the idea of debt forgiveness. Even though only a minority of
Americans feel that it is unfair to forgive the loans of some people
because others have found ways to pay them back, media
outlets have elevated
said this argument is “not valid.” Citing the high cost
of colleges and low wages, she said, “we’re just not in
the same economic conditions as people were, who seem to tout having
paid off their student loan[s].”
some media pundits are labeling the demand to erase student debt as a
radical idea, akin to “Defund
of these are in fact radical). David
Frum writing in the Atlantic
that the call to erase student debt is a “trap” laid for
Biden by leftist activists. He bizarrely compared it to the
right-wing culture wars being waged by GOP leaders like Gov. Ron
DeSantis of Florida.
is DeSantis’ targeting of transgender youth to win political
points from his rabidly homophobic and transphobic voter base
anything like Biden erasing the student debt of 43 million Americans?
If anything, the GOP may be opposed to debt forgiveness precisely
because such a move would benefit disproportionately impacted Black
and Brown people.
the state of the economy, and are blaming Biden for it. In such a
context, student debt forgiveness is a no-brainer. Not only would it
amount to a retroactive government subsidy for higher education—a
far more constructive use of tax dollars than, say, the fossil
would also amount to an economic stimulus. With fewer loan payments
to make, borrowers would have more income freed up to spend on
necessities. At a time of high inflation, any extra income helps
prospects for Democrats to hold on to their slim House and Senate
majorities in the November midterms appear grim,
it would seem to be an obvious electoral tactic, if not a morally
sound decision, to forgive the student debt that has hampered the
lives of so many people, and especially Black and Brown Americans.
Polls show there is overwhelming
response from the GOP does not go beyond the now-cliché label
describe debt forgiveness. Republicans are also claiming that Biden
lacks the legal right
cancel the debt via executive order—a laughable position in
light of former President Donald Trump’s constant executive
But, in response to Republicans introducing a recent bill to thwart
Biden’s executive authority to cancel student debt, analysts
pointed out that the Republican Party has inadvertently admitted that
the president does indeed have the legal standing to do so.
Higher Education Act of 1964 gives the president the power to direct
his secretary of education to cancel debt broadly,” said
Walton. Indeed, for the past two years, Biden has used this same
authority to pause
federal student debt in light of pandemic-related financial
that hasn’t stopped Obama-era Education Department general
claiming that presidential action to erase student debt is legally
questionable and suggesting that loan servicing companies might sue
concerned,” said Walton. “I don’t know what the
reason for not [doing] broad cancellation [of debt] would be.”
Republicans never seem to waver in their singular focus on ensuring
that wealth flows upward and into the hands of wealthy white elites.
And Democrats, far too often, fail to provide a countervailing force
in the other direction.
This commentary was produced by
a project of the Independent Media Institute.