wealth inequality

The uneven impact of the $1.7 trillion student debt crisis on Black Americans is ‘entirely

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  • Sen. Chuck Schumer and NAACP’s Derrick Johnson urged Biden to cancel student debt.
  • They wrote in BET the racial wealth divide will persist as long as student debt continues to grow.
  • Despite pressure, Biden is still planning to resume loan payments on May 1. 

A day before President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, two major student-debt cancellation advocates made it known to the president he needs to act on the growing $1.7 trillion student debt crisis.

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and NAACP President Derrick Johnson wrote an opinion piece in Black Entertainment Television (BET), in which they detailed the impact of student debt in the country has on Black borrowers. They noted how Black borrowers are more likely to take out student loans to begin with than their white counterparts, and while the median white borrower will owe just 6% of their student debt 20 years after entering college, the median Black borrowers will still owe 95% of their debt over the same time period.

NAACP President Derrick Johnson poses for a photo on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, in Los Angeles.

NAACP President Derrick Johnson.

AP Photo/Richard Vogel


“This disparity is unacceptable,” Schumer and Johnson wrote. “It is un-American. And at the current rate, it is entirely unsustainable.”

They detailed the plight Black Americans have had in simply seeking an education, highlighting how the first university in America — Harvard  — was established in 1636, but Alexander Twilight, the first Black college graduate, didn’t do so until 1823.

“We still have a long way to go to bridge the racial wealth divide in America,” Schumer and Johnson wrote. “And it will not likely happen so long as student debt continues to grow at its current pace.”

Student-loan payments have been on pause for nearly two years as part of Biden and President Donald Trump’s pandemic relief measures. While Biden recently extended the pause a third time, through May 1, Johnson, Schumer, and other lawmakers and advocates have been arguing that if Biden can keep extending the pause on payments, he should cancel student debt broadly to close the racial wealth gap and stimulate the economy.

Likely voters with student debt have also joined lawmakers in pushing for loan relief. A recent poll from Data for Progress and the Student Borrower Protection Center found 70% of Black borrowers support extending the payment pause, with 75% of the same group supporting the cancellation of some or all student debt for borrowers.

Still, it’s unclear whether Biden will take action on the broad student-debt relief his own party is calling for. While he pledged during his campaign to approve $10,000 in cancellation for every federal borrower, that has yet to come to fruition. The White House has said multiple times that if Congress sends him a bill to implement that relief, he will happily sign it, but Schumer and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren have previously said going the legislative route would take too long, and would likely fail, thanks to partisanship.

Schumer and Johnson said, there’s no reason why canceling student debt should be a difficult task.

“President Biden has offered millions of borrowers critical relief by extending the pause on student loan payments during the COVID-19 pandemic,” they wrote. “It’s time for the President to take the next step: if the Biden Administration can pause debt, then they can cancel it too.”

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