We have nurtured the dreams of Black children. We have raised generations of communities around a simple message: you can be anything you want if you set your mind to the task and work hard. Our children believed us. It was a blessing every time a Black child told us that they wanted to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, and other community-building careers.
We’ve seen Black children succeed, overcoming racial barriers on the path to college and graduate school success. But one barrier remains one that compounds the racial oppression that so many have fought so hard to overcome: student loan debt.
Both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are making headlines for two distinct solutions to this problem, and we commend them for their efforts. Warren’s program caps loan forgiveness at $50,000 per borrower, while Sander’s plan forgives the entirety of the 1.6 trillion dollar student loan bubble. The Sanders loan forgiveness plan incorporates a bill in the U.S. House introduced by Minnesota’s own Ilhan Omar, “The Student Debt Cancellation Act of 2019.” We are proud of Congresswoman Omar for taking this courageous step and wish to weigh in on why her fight for loan forgiveness benefits our national economy while also being a necessary step towards addressing the racial wealth gap as well.
We often tell our children that education is the key to success, as it had been for many of us in decades past. However, with the rising cost of schooling, the road to educational attainment for Black youth today is financially perilous. Black students are among the most likely to take on debt to pay for school. Nearly 86% of all Black students borrow federal loans to pay for college, as compared to 59% of white students. A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics tracked student loan outcomes for borrowers who enrolled in college in 2003. Nearly half of all Black borrowers in the 2003 cohort defaulted on their loans within 12 years, as compared to 20% of whites and 11% of Asian borrowers.
Black people already live under a racial wealth gap, which persists at all levels of educational attainment according to a 2018 study published at Duke University. A Black family with a college-educated head of household has less wealth than a white household headed by someone with less than a high school diploma. The 2018 study concluded, “It takes a postgraduate education for a black family to have comparable levels of wealth to a white household with some college education or an associate degree.” When it comes to closing the racial wealth gap, college isn’t enough for Black families, and though post-graduate education is associated with relative gains in wealth for Black households, it also comes with a racially disproportionate amount of ever-rising student loan debt.
Existing loan relief programs are insufficient or simply ineffective. Under the federal government’s income adjusted loan repayment program, the federal government forgives the loans it holds after a 20 or 25 year period. However, the amount forgiven is counted as income and thus taxed, leaving many borrowers to merely substitute their student loan debt for a tax burden owed to the IRS. In 2007 the federal government passed the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, promising to forgive loans without tax liability if graduates were employed in public service and made 120 payments towards their loans (approximately ten years of payments). Yet, the government has thus far rejected 99% of the 132,000 applications it processed.
Ilhan Omar and the other members of Congress pushing for this student loan debt jubilee are making our economy stronger by allowing more people to put their money towards buying homes and other consumer goods rather than servicing debt. Furthermore, they’re taking a major step towards racial justice. If the youth are saddled with student loans, then the parents and the community as a whole are burdened by the debt.
We stand by Congresswoman Omar and are ready to fight for our futures alongside her.
If you have questions regarding the position statement, contact Marquita Stephens at 612-302-3114.
Alberder Gillespie, Convener of Black Women Rising (BWR)
Marquita Stephens, Director of Education Programming and Policy for the Minneapolis Urban League
LaVerne Knighton, Executive Director of the United Negro College Fund
Nick Muhammad, Executive Director of the Black Civic network