Biden’s student loan plan isn’t enough for black Americans
I will not benefit from Biden’s plan to forgive up to $10,000 in student loan debt (or up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients) for people earning less than $125,000 a year. And while I can’t find the reasoning behind the income capping device, I do get the basic idea: those with higher incomes, like me, can generally manage their loans more easily than those with higher incomes. weak. There’s some theoretical truth to that, but ultimately this “solution” is doubly disappointing: it’s not a big enough or bold enough reimagining of how we treat education in general, and it completely misses the mark for black Americans looking for a country that wants to be racial. Justice.
I don’t blame anyone for having their loans canceled under this new policy, even though I won’t get relief; However, I lament the administration’s failure to properly weigh the role wealth plays, or should play, in student loan forgiveness. I mean wealth as opposed to income–wealth that is, assets that can be passed down from generation to generation. Lots of people I went to law school with will benefit from this loan forgiveness and also come from families who own houses, land, boats, cars, stocks, etc. That is, they took out loans for higher education but also living with a buffer of generational financial security that eludes me and my family members. I don’t come from a wealthy family. When my (black) father passed away, he literally left nothing of financial value; a tiny life insurance policy covered the cost of his cremation. (I’ve written before about the impact of racism on her life.) When my mother dies, she won’t leave anything of financial value either; she is a social worker and was a single mother. There are no wills, no estates, no trusts, no legacies, no capital, nothing. Somehow I feel rude and uncomfortable considering “things of financial value” in the same sentence as death – but that’s how wealth works. A generation accumulates and the next generation inherits after the death of the elderly.
Here’s something else about how wealth works: it can’t accrue to people who aren’t allowed, whether by law, social norms, or economic realities, to accumulate it. If, as in the example of the black half of my family, things like redlining and the GI Bill, and even current home ratings reflect anti-black racism, then in all but the rarest of circumstances, black individuals and families literally cannot create wealth. Elders won’t reach the end of their lives with assets to pass on, and children won’t get a nest egg or windfall – let alone a silver spoon – to build on. The policies and norms that create this reality are intentional, not accidental, and they date, at least philosophically, from chattel slavery. For centuries, and driven by a false ideology of white supremacy, those who make up federal, state, and local governments have created and maintained powerful barriers to black wealth, while facilitating white wealth (see, for example, the GI Bill.). Like almost everything that has its roots in pre-war America, we haven’t solved the problem yet. Those of us who pay for our education with loans but have no family wealth are paying the price.
And black people, once again, carry an inordinate burden. In addition to earning disproportionately less money than their fellow white Americans, black Americans have one-sixth the wealth of white Americans on average, per capita. It is therefore not surprising that black families borrow at higher rates than their non-black counterparts and owe more. According to the Brookings Institute, “differences in interest accrual and borrowing from college lead black graduates to carry nearly $53,000 in student debt four years after graduation, or nearly two times more than their white counterparts. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that ten thousand dollars in relief will benefit white people more than black people. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand the impact of wealth on student loan debt, either: Wealthier people need to borrow less, and if they do, they do so with a cushion. They won’t fall through the cracks and are much less likely to be ravaged by the vagaries of the labor market and the economy in general.
Did the Biden administration seriously consider all of this as it mapped out its options? Did he consider, for example, that from the outset the federal student loan program disadvantaged blacks? In 1958, when the first federal student loans were offered, they went to promising high school students at the discretion of colleges; it was a time when high schools and colleges were bitterly separated, black schools were brutally and intentionally under-resourced, racism was worn as a badge of honor, and there was not even a language for the concept of prejudice unconscious in college admissions.
Has the administration seized this moment as a chance to finally locate a new and better North Star, one that meets the imperative to create racial equity despite and because of our racialized origins? It would seem that the answer to these questions is no. My disappointment, unfortunately, is familiar.
Let me be clear. I’m not saying only black people deserve loan forgiveness. On the contrary: I think student loans should be canceled, period, and we should recognize, through policy change, that the poor and middle class of all races have been cheated by the student loan industry. , which, as the wall street journal journalist Josh Mitchel says it, “privatize[s] profit and socialize[s] losses.” We should recognize that education, whether seen as an enhancement of the mind in itself or as an economic imperative, is a human right. But it is undeniable that black Americans will suffer disproportionately from the Biden’s mixed and lukewarm response to what must be understood not only as a financial crisis, but also as a racial crisis.
Indeed, the administration has let a moment of far-reaching racial justice slip through its fingers. Eliminate even a little After Student loan debt – not even all of it! – would have profound implications for racial justice. According to consumer rights group Public Citizen, canceling $50,000 in debt would immediately increase black wealth by 40%. It is important. The wealth gap has long and varied tentacles: In addition to making education more accessible and student debt more manageable, wealth enables families to deal with financial emergencies, start businesses, buy homes, to marry when they want, to have children if and when they want, to give philanthropically, to access legal justice, to exercise political influence and to dream about the future instead of worrying about it.
The policy unveiled today is simply too little. Too little imagination, too little common sense, too little understanding of the larger context. Too little for all of us, but especially for those of us who have no generational wealth, however modest, to fall back on.
It’s too little, but fortunately not too late. Biden should consider his new policy as a first draft. His administration should take the notes of progressive and race-conscious scholars, historians and activists to heart, and try again. Build back better, you might say. All borrowers would benefit from a broader sense of fairness here; and perhaps most importantly given our history, black borrowers could lay down some of the deeply unjust burdens of American racism. If Biden refuses to cancel student debt entirely, he has a moral duty to acknowledge the racial impact of his policy choice. If he doesn’t like that impact, then he should change the policy. That’s the American dream, isn’t it? We aim high, we don’t give up and we all cross the finish line better than when we started.
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