Op-Ed by State Reps. Darisha Parker, Donna Bullock, and Morgan Cephas (D-Philadelphia)
If you are complaining about your tax dollars paying off someone else’s student loan debt, or proudly declaring that you worked hard to pay your own student loan debt, or if you were silent when billions of tax dollars paid off the debt of big corporations under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), have a seat.
If you were fortunate enough to have family or someone who could save or even scrape together money for your higher education costs, by all means, count your blessings. You are not begrudged that good fortune. However, not everyone was or is in that same position.
According to the Federal Reserve, the gender and racial wealth gap is significant. The median wealth of white families is 10 times that of Black families and more than 8 times that of Latinx families. A white man’s median net worth is 100 times higher than a Black woman’s. Yes, there is a cost to closing the gender-racial wealth gap. But the up-side is huge: Black women contributing to their communities through home ownership, purchasing goods and services, and on and on.
So it stands to reason, Black women will benefit the most from President Joe Biden’s cancellation of student loan debt, which may explain some of this backlash. Historically, Black women have been left out of the higher education game, first by blatant discrimination and now by cost. This gender-racial wealth gap affects everyone. It affects entire communities. But at its core, it has economic impacts on a Black woman’s financial security, health, and civic engagement on many levels.
Women hold two-thirds of the nation’s student loan debt, and Black women have the highest average total undergraduate and graduate loan debt. Women and people of color are juggling higher amounts of student loan debt with lower paying jobs and other gender and race disparities. For these borrowers and many others, the cancellation of $10,000 of debt is a great start, but it doesn’t go far enough. Rather than complain about who’s eligible and who’s not, let’s work together to maximize student loan relief.
Interestingly, we were discussing a 2021 NBC news article about how a publicly traded company in Texas took a PPP loan, quadrupled its earnings, doubled the pay of its top three executives, and then had its $2.2 million PPP loan forgiven.
It’s not the first time we read it, but it is just as shocking this time around.
We’re not sure where the outrage was for that egregious step of greed; surely at the time, it was somewhere. But it makes the latest negative chatter on the President’s student loan forgiveness mind boggling. Especially, as we’ve pointed out, taxpayers are footing that bill for PPP loans.
For Black women in particular, the alleviation of a small bit of student loan debt can be the difference between investing in a home, paying for child care, starting a business, saving for retirement — or not.
In many instances, these women came from families whose household income was $30k or less a year. Certainly no one was saving for college. These families are barely getting by day to day. There simply is nothing extra left.
The president’s reprieve is overdue and folks are very grateful, but it still comes up short. This should be the first step in making college affordable for everyone, not just a one-time deal.
According to White House reports, nearly 90% of relief dollars will go to borrowers earning less than $75,000 per year. Also, under the president’s proposed changes to income-based repayment, the average borrower will save over $1,000 per year on loan payments, and the typical college borrower will see their loan payments cut in half.
There are folks who seem to think we can lavish that support on corporate America but when it comes to everyday citizens, it’s a no-go. This debt relief benefits a whole group in the population that has been left behind on the American dream that others have enjoyed.
Maybe it is hard for some to watch because it means a true leveling of the field…and a leveling that is long overdue.
State Rep. Darisha Parker, chair, subcommittee on women and girls of color (PLBC)
State Rep. Donna Bullock, chair, PA Legislative Black Caucus (PLBC)
State Rep. Morgan Cephas, co-chair, women’s health caucus
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