Last month, President Biden declared that he would not support student debt forgiveness and took a huge step backwards in fulfilling the pledges he made to Black voters and Black women during his campaign. When asked about Senator Schumer, Senator Warren and other lawmakers’ proposal to wipe out $50,000 per person of student loan debt at a CNN town hall, Biden quickly said, “I will not make that happen.”
Biden’s position is clearly out of touch with Black voters, who were instrumental in his victory in November. Color Of Change just released a survey that shows 84 percent of Black voters support eliminating student debt. Forty percent said they would not vote for a candidate who opposes it, and another 40 percent said they want Biden to make sure any student admitted to public college can finish without taking on loans.
The student loan debt crisis is not just a national economic issue—it is also a racial justice issue at its core. The price of higher education is intentionally inequitable for Black students due to racist policies that sustain and widen the racial wealth gap. Many lending companies offer predatory lending practices, limited access to bank loans, misleading marketing, and unnecessary fees that increase the price of education for Black people compared to their white peers.
Yet it is harder and harder to get a job that pays the bills without a college degree. Ninety-one percent of Black voters surveyed believe that the cost of higher education makes college unattainable, and the same percentage of Black voters believe that attending college is beneficial for the country overall. When you think about how higher education is revered in our society compared to the price of attending college—it’s clear that Black communities have been blocked from the opportunity from the start.
Sixty-four percent of Black voters who never attended a post-secondary institution indicate that it was because of student loan debt, and 70 percent believe that pursuing higher education is no longer worth the cost. More than half of students take on debt to go to college and 2020 graduates owe $37,500 on average—an amount that’s gone steadily up by 20 percent in the last five years.
Factoring in centuries of economic oppression that have kept Black communities from accumulating generational wealth, Black students are more likely to defer their loans for a few years—accruing thousands more in interest that forces them to potentially live paycheck-to-paycheck or work multiple jobs—just to pay off loans well into adulthood. Not to mention that many Black folks take out private loans to pay for college, which don’t even qualify for federal student loan forgiveness. These repercussions continue to ripple across generations and throughout entire communities. According to our poll:
- 73 percent said they would save for retirement
- 53 percent would buy a home instead of renting
- 49 percent would live in a different neighborhood
- 48 percent would be more likely to leave a job where they’re facing discrimination
- 30 percent would seek to start their own small-business
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said it best when she tweeted earlier this year, “You want to thank Black women? Cancel student debt – all of it.”
Black women hold more student debt than any other group in America today so it’s no surprise that according to our poll, Black women show the highest support for eliminating student loan debt. We need tangible legislation to improve our lives, support our families, and create economic mobility in our communities–policies like a livable wage and affordable education opportunities that enable us to tear down, not reform, the structural barriers that limit our upward mobility in almost every aspect of our economy and society.
Biden needs to take bold action to make college affordable for Black families and eliminate both private and federal student debt completely—not just $10,000 of it during the pandemic. If Democrats want Black voters to turn out for them in 2022 and 2024, Congress and the Biden-Harris administration need to translate their campaign promises into policy.
All the promises from politicians saying “Black Lives Matter” aren’t worth anything if they’re standing in the way of our upward mobility and policy change. And full student loan debt elimination—along with raising the minimum wage and ending mass incarceration—is one of the most powerful ways to help repair centuries of systemic racism and undo economic inequality.
Black women and voters worked around the clock to help Biden beat Trump and turn the Senate blue. Biden knows it, and that’s one reason he has to put Black women at the center of his agenda. This administration will be judged not just for its optics—but its policies. It’s time for Biden to make a real commitment to advancing racial equity and eliminate full student debt—for good.
Arisha Hatch is Vice President of Campaigns, Color Of Change, the largest online racial justice organization in the country. Color Of Change helps people respond effectively to injustice in the world around us. As a national online force driven by over 7 million members, we move decision-makers in corporations and government to create a more human and less hostile world for Black people in America. Visit www.colorofchange.org.