Tackling Student Debt: A Call for Economic Justice

State Rep Morgan CephasSubmitted Image
Op-Ed by State Rep. Morgan Cephas, D-Philadelphia

Having sat on the paperwork for months, I finally met the resolve to push through the uncertainties and submit my application for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. The process seemed daunting, but to my astonishment, less than a year later, I received confirmation that two-thirds of my undergraduate debt would be permanently discharged. This relief lifted a once-in-a-generation financial burden, an ordeal many won’t be as fortunate to overcome as they navigate their economic futures.

As an African American woman and state representative in Pennsylvania, I stand at the crossroads of multiple identities, grappling with challenges stemming from systemic inequities deeply rooted in our society. Among these challenges is the issue of student loan debt, a weight disproportionately borne by Black women like myself. That’s why I wholeheartedly endorse President Joe Biden’s commitment to tackling this crisis through loan forgiveness. Student loan debt paralyzes individuals, particularly those from vulnerable communities, hindering their ability to actively participate and thrive in our economy.

Pennsylvania ranks third in the nation for average student debt at $39,375, while across the U.S., individuals aged 25 to 49 carry an average debt of $38,575. Shockingly, 53% of Black women carry student loan debt, the highest among all racial and gender demographics. This burden is further exacerbated by wage gaps and lower earnings in Black households, resulting in slower debt repayment and widening disparities over time.

These statistics underscore the urgent need for action to alleviate the financial burden of student loan debt on individuals and families.

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For African American women, this burden significantly hampers our ability to break free from the shackles of generational poverty and achieve socioeconomic mobility. Despite our resilience and determination, economic disparities, limited resources, and historical injustices perpetuate a cycle of inequality that profoundly impacts our pursuit of academic success. When we do manage to access educational opportunities, we often rely on loans to finance them. Consequently, student debt becomes an overwhelming barrier, delaying essential life milestones such as homeownership, starting a family, and entrepreneurial endeavors.

President Biden’s proposal for student debt forgiveness acknowledges the complex challenges faced by African American women. His commitment to creating pathways to forgiveness is a crucial step toward rectifying the impact of historical injustices and fostering a more equitable future.

The president’s three-part plan to cancel debt through targeted measures represents a significant stride toward addressing the student debt crisis and advancing economic justice. While the initial proposal for mass debt forgiveness faced challenges, the administration’s strategic approach to targeting relief for low- to middle-income borrowers, public service employees, and those experiencing financial hardship has already yielded significant impact. It is imperative that measures to support current and future borrowers continue to succeed and expand.

Critics argue that student debt forgiveness amounts to an unfair bailout for those who willingly took on loans. However, it is essential to recognize that the current student debt crisis is rooted in systemic issues within our education system and society at large. African American women have long navigated these challenges, and it is our duty as policymakers to level the playing field. Moreover, eliminating student debt positions borrowers to more actively participate in the economy, benefiting society as a whole.

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President Biden’s initiative to address student debt forgiveness transcends mere financial considerations; it is a moral and economic imperative. By providing relief to millions of borrowers, particularly those from marginalized communities like Black women, we advance economic justice and move closer to a society where everyone has an equal chance to succeed. As an African American woman and advocate for equity, I wholeheartedly endorse President Biden’s commitment to student debt forgiveness.

Morgan Cephas, a Democrat, represents the 192nd State House District, which includes portions of Philadelphia. She is chair of the House Philadelphia Delegation and co-chair of the Black Maternal Health Caucus.

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