To President Biden and His Plans for Student Loans: Black People Deserve Better
A letter to the President from one disappointed Black American college educated voter
At this past Tuesday’s townhall, President Joe Biden discussed his policies and plans for a number of pressing issues that he inherited. He took questions from the Milwaukee, WI audience on: racial justice, COVID response, white supremacy, and the student loan debt crisis. For the most part, I supported his empathetic answers to some hard hitting questions across all subjects; particularly his views regarding racial inequality. I appreciated his affirmation and acknowledgement that there is racial disparity in our country, that seeps far beyond the justice system. He said that he thought, given the social climate, now was the time to make significant change. He went on to say, and I am loosely quoting, that the younger generation was different and thought different; and we need to appeal to that.
Towards the end of the townhall, in my opinion, he seemed to take a different turn. Someone inquired about his student debt plans and called for a $50,000 write off towards student loans. He refused to do it, though he did say he was considering $10,000. Maybe, unbeknownst to the President, student loans is actually one of the systems that creates an even wider wealth gap that disadvantages Black Americans even more than their White counterparts. Or, like Presidents past, decides when it is convenient, and with which systems / industries to “create significant change” in the fight against racial disparity. But, his response lead me to writing this letter below to express my disappointment.
My voice is not a monolith of the Black American college educated voter, or the Black American voter, in general. But I know, like so many other Black Americans, that I am tired of Presidents affirming the realities of racial disparity and inequality in our country, on the one hand. But then on the other, give lacklustre, at best, solutions. This is just one of the issues that I am passionate about, and one that also affects me. But I implore and encourage other people, not just Blacks, to use their voice to speak out against policies in our country that preclude or stagnate the progression of all Americans.
You were right Mr. President, the younger generation is different. Now hear us, understand us, and respond to us with significant action in the fight against all forms and all systems that create inequality.
Dear Mr. President Joe Biden,
As a Black American millennial voter and supporter, with a house payment of student loan debt looming over my head like a dark cloud; I am very disappointed in your response regarding your student loan policy this past Tuesday, in Milwaukee. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but your proposed vision to only cancel $10,000 through executive order, in my opinion, is putting a bandaid over open heart surgery. This analogy is especially comparable to our current student debt crisis, given 45 million Americans owe a total of $1.6 trillion in student loans as of late last year. (Stewart December 2020)
I believe this particular issue is even more debilitating to the Black community. This is the same community of people who helped to give Democrats control over the Senate; and made you President, through our committed and collective civil action. Time again, I see Democrats, yourself in this moment, taking for granted the Black vote; providing only lip service to recognizing the problems of systemic racism, but taking drop in a bucket like actions to preclude its ongoing existence. In this case, I am referring to your refusal to tackle the student loan crisis with more gusto; and instead, making it Congress’s problem. I’m sure you are very much aware that Congress would need a 60 vote majority in the Senate to pass a comprehensive student loan cancellation bill. ( Nova January 2021). You are also aware that this is the same Senate that only garnered 57 votes to prosecute the ex-President, who incited an insurrection and a direct attack on our democracy.
I think if we cannot even rely on overwhelming Republican support to condemn Trump for his responsibility in the attempted destruction of our democracy; I highly doubt that we would get 10 Republican Senators to support fixing this economic disparity.
This is why I believe it is up to you to cancel at least $50,000, if not all, student loan debt that is currently outstanding. It is my understanding that the Higher Education Act of 1965 gives your administration that exact power to do so. (Friedman February 2021)
To quote you at the townhall:
“We cannot talk about opportunity within the Black community in terms of the justice system. That is one small piece. There are so many things that are built institutionally that disadvantage Blacks and Latinos…We have a chance now to make significant change in racial disparities. ” (President Biden February 2021)
I was truly moved by that statement. I am also glad that we are seeing acknowledgment, on this grand scale, of what Blacks have been knowing and speaking up about, for some time now. Therefore, why not start by fixing, or at least appropriately contributing to the student debt crisis; which disproportionately affects the financial efficacy of Black people?
I graduated with a B.A. in Government and I also have two law degrees, so I am used to using evidence to back up my claims. Therefore, I have collated some statistics so you can see how much you could make a difference here:
85% of Black college graduates will walk away with a degree and debt. (Nova January 2021). This is compared to 69% of their White counterparts. (Nova January 2021). Not to mention, that due to the racial wealth and income inequalities in the U.S., Blacks are more likely to hold that debt for longer, accrue more interest, and suffer from higher default rates. (Nova January 2021) After four years from graduation, Black Americans tend to hold nearly $53,000 in student loan debt, twice the amount of their White counterparts. (Scott-Clayton & Li October 2016) And, not to mention, that more Black Americans owe more on their student loans four years after graduation, than what they did at the time of graduation. (Scott-Clayton & Li October 2016)
Paying back these loans makes this even harder during and after the pandemic. I am aware that your predecessor and you have paused the requirement to pay back this debt during much of 2020; and that will continue on through September 2021. However, when Black people, specifically, are required to resume payment, it may be much harder given the staunch racial inequality displayed in the current job market. Just in the last year, Black workers were less likely to be called back to work; and/or no longer have a job; given Black unemployment has risen higher than their White counterparts; 13% to 7% respectfully. (Williams September 2020)
Racial inequality in the student debt crisis is real. We don’t need any more future promises not actually going to be realized; nor do we need affirmations that just tell us what we already know. What we need is actual and significant change. $10,000 seems a far cry from significant. I understand that there is still some confusion on your ability as President to write off any debt. But, from what you said at the townhall, and what I understand, you will not consider forgiving $50,000, even if you could write off more debt. To me, Mr. President, this means you are not paying enough attention and giving enough credence to this very real problem. You are not committed to creating significant change in all institutions that have racial disparity. This also means that you are not keeping your promises to the 87% of Blacks who voted for you, a significant enough chunk of which likely hold college or higher diplomas, with crippling student debt. (Evelyn November 2020)
I hope this letter does not offend you, that was never my intention. However, I wanted to directly and bluntly lay down the facts as to the dire situation for Black American college debt holders right now. Research shows that this crisis affects more than our pocketbooks. It affects our future. It slows down future home ownership, the financial freedom to start families, small businesses, and/or to change jobs. (Stewart December 2020) I implore you Mr. President, and your administration, to think of how cancelling student debt will give more financial freedom back to our community. I also implore your administration to get creative. If your administration can sign an executive order to cancel student debt fully, maybe think of ways of how we can use that money to invest in our futures. It may be worth considering a way to repurpose the money into: homeownership, starting small businesses, contributing to the upkeep of the national infrastructure, and / or investing in local schools & education programs. (I’m not sure how you can do this, but, I think it might be worth assessing).
I hope this letter can help your administration and you realize that cancelling student debt will “give you a chance to make significant change in racial disparities” beyond the justice system.