Student Loan Debt – Death Do Us Apart | Unfinished

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By Rogette Harris

President Joe Biden announced that Americans earning less than $125,000 a year would be eligible for $10,000 in debt forgiveness on their federal student loans. People who received a Pell grant – the need-based grant for low-income students – will see up to $20,000 in debt forgiven.

Biden is also extending the COVID pandemic pause on student loan repayments through the end of 2022, and the Department of Education is proposing to cap undergraduate loan repayments at 5% of a borrower’s monthly income.

About 1 in 5 Americans have student loan debt, and thanks to skyrocketing education costs and slow wage growth, the circumstances surrounding repayment are worse. There is $1.6 trillion in student loan debt, which does not include private loans. Student loans can follow a person for life, and some private loans can be passed on after death.

In many ways, canceling student debt is about racial justice. A 2011 report by Jorge Rivas showed that students of color are less likely to win private scholarships or receive merit-based institutional grants than white students. The report also found that white students receive more than three times as many merit grants and private scholarships as students of color. Ten years later, these disparities still exist.

Additionally, black women hold the highest amount of student debt and are also the most educated demographic in the United States. The workforce doesn’t reflect this, due to workforce biases and the fact that it’s harder when you have both isms (racism and sexism) to move up the ranks and receive the salary you deserve.

Student loan debt is a constant stressor and gets in the way of life choices, especially with the rising cost of living. Many people choose to delay or not have children, invest in a business, buy a house, etc. Student debt exponentially changes a person’s purchasing power and opportunity. Even when you make monthly payments, the payments often don’t affect the loans due to compound interest.

The comments on this new executive order from the Biden administration have been interesting to say the least. Politicians, such as Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have called student debt cancellation “a slap in the face to every family that has sacrificed to save for college, to every graduate who paid his debt and to every American who chose a certain career path.” or volunteered to serve in our armed forces to avoid going into debt.

It is interesting to hear politicians say this nonsense since they get an annual increase in the cost of living. In Pennsylvania alone, state lawmakers are expected to receive an $8,300 pay raise this year.

Unfortunately, McConnell is not the only one to think so. Some people accept the idea that the United States is a class society. If one doesn’t come from an upper class family that can help pay, bad luck!

It is true that canceling student debt benefits current student debt holders more than those who have struggled in the past. So what? Student debt relief is a necessary political correction to a worsening social situation. The original purpose of the loans was to provide a way to rise above economic circumstances and enable entry into middle-class life. Obtaining a university degree no longer guarantees this way of life.

We know the stories. A person thinks that a college degree is his ticket to a successful career and a stable life. Many of these stories end in underemployment, debt and regret. At some point, a college education ceased to be a guarantee of a better life and a step into a higher social class. A college education helps some, but getting ahead these days takes more than a great resume. Student loans remind me of the line from the wedding vow, “Till death do us part.”

I speak from experience. I am the first person in my family to graduate from college and I went to graduate school. Almost immediately, I received an email from my student loan provider about how I planned to repay my loans. I continue to be one of those 1 in 5 Americans who continue to pay their student debt.

I’m appalled by the attitudes of “Well, I had to suffer, so you should too” on social media and other places. Then there are the comments from people who have repaid their children’s loans.

So only children from high-income families or generational wealth should be able to go to college? For decades, most recently in 2020, the federal government has bailed out corporations, banks, donated to multi-millionaires, and cut sweetheart deals for the oil and gas industry. For once, the ordinary American is getting help. Going to university is investing in yourself. Canceling student loan debt is by no means a handout.

Many students take out student loans before they are old enough to vote or legally drink alcohol. It is time for us as a country to fix this problem. No one should go into debt just to be educated.

Rogette Harris is a Democratic political analyst and member of PennLive’s editorial board.

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