WATCH: How student loan debt disproportionately hurts Black borrowers - PBS NewsHour




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President Joe Biden on April 6 announced another freeze on student debt payments–the seventh of such postponements, which began in the early days of the COVID pandemic.
READ MORE: Student loan debt has a lasting effect on Black borrowers, despite the latest freeze in payments
The postponement was welcome news to many of the nearly 44 million people in the United States with outstanding student loans. But even as payments are postponed, some have called for more relief in the form of student debt forgiveness or cancellation.
“With almost two years of paused payments, we can document all the benefits to borrowers, and there’s not really any large harm that has come to the federal government by not having these payments or really to any other large institution or economic body,” Assistant Professor of Education at Villanova University Jalil Mustaffa Bishop told the PBS NewsHour’s Nicole Ellis during an April 13 conversation.
Watch the conversation in the live player above.
Democrats like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have been pushing the administration to cancel $50,000 through executive action; a 2019 study found that $50,000 of federal student loan cancellation would eliminate all student debt for 93 percent of Black low-income households that hold student debt. But the administration has avoided taking any unilateral action, in part because of possible legal concerns about forgiving such a massive amount of debt, but also because of a political calculus.
Bishop said who is affected, and harmed, by student debt is not well understood by the public or policymakers. Nearly half of all student debt borrowers do not have any kind of academic credentials. More than half are over the age of 30.
“Often there’s this framing of student debt as young 18 to 20-year-olds who have earned their college credential, but haven’t given themselves enough time in the labor market yet to see it pay off,” he said.
“And what we’re trying to make clear to policymakers is that the reason we have a student debt crisis is not just impatient young college graduates, but that the promise fundamentally hasn’t paid off.”
That promise of a higher wage eventually following the completion of a higher education degree is what Bishop said has not come to pass.
“We hear that the majority of borrowers are over 30 and let us know that again, we made a promise that if you took out student debt that you’ll be able to repay in 10 years. And now we’re seeing that people are taking 20 years, 30 years and really not seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. So we have to use these data points to rethink and be kind of clear that the promise around student debt is increasingly looking like it’s broken that people aren’t able to repay in 10 years.”
Bishop said data shows that Black borrowers are also more likely to face difficulty paying back their loans because of a systemic racial disparities in the labor market. According to his research, 20 years after Black borrowers graduate, they still owe on average about 96 percent of the original balance while similar white borrowers owe about six percent of their balance.
“Black borrowers borrow more student loans than any other group,” Bishop said. “They are more likely to enroll in institutions that are underfunded or at lower performing institutions. They’re more likely to be targeted by for-profit institutions, which usually are more expensive and have some of the lowest graduation rates. And then on top of all of that, they enter a labor market that still has continuous wage gaps, still has patterns of labor market discrimination.”
An Economist and YouGov poll from January found that nearly half of all Americans and 70 percent of Democrats support forgiving student loan debt from public colleges and universities, and new poll by Student Borrower Protection Center and Data for Progress found that three quarters of Black likely voters and 80 percent of Latino and Latina likely voters support government canceling some to all student debt. Despite the popularity among his base, and in particular voters of color, Biden has punted the responsibility to Congress.
Bishop says that canceling student debt would be a way of addressing the economic hurdles that borrowers have faced. Cancellation, or free higher education, would also be a way of recognizing that education is a public good like roads or bridges which should be paid for by the government.
“What we argue for here with cancellation and, even more importantly, for free college legislation to follow, is that higher education also should be treated as a public good because the benefits outweigh the decades of practice of having people individually try to access these schools.”
Though President Joe Biden announced on April 6 that he will again extend relief for federal borrowers, pushing the payment start date back to Sept. 1, his administration hasn’t yet taken any substantial steps toward permanent relief. That leaves many Americans stuck with thousands of dollars of debt, hindering their abilities to plan for the future and invest in assets that would help grow intergenerational wealth. This is particularly damaging for Black Americans, as systemic inequities often hinder the ability to compete on a level playing field in the workplace.
 
By Hannah Grabenstein, Saher Khan
By Colleen Long, Associated Press
By News Desk

Casey is a producer for NewsHour’s digital video team.

Nicole Ellis is PBS NewsHour’s digital anchor where she hosts pre- and post-shows and breaking news live streams on digital platforms and serves as a correspondent for the nightly broadcast. Ellis joined the NewsHour from The Washington Post, where she was an Emmy nominated on-air reporter and anchor covering social issues and breaking news. In this role, she hosted, produced, and directed original documentaries and breaking news videos for The Post’s website, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Facebook and Twitch, earning a National Outstanding Breaking News Emmy Nomination for her coverage of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Ellis created and hosted The Post’s first original documentary series, “Should I freeze my eggs?,” in which she explores her own fertility and received the 2019 Digiday Publishers Award. She also created and hosted the Webby Award-winning news literacy series “The New Normal,” the most viewed video series in the history of The Washington Post’s women’s vertical, The Lily.

She is the author of “We Go High,” a non-fiction self-help-by-proxy book on overcoming adversity publishing in 2022, and host of Critical Conversations on BookClub, an author-led book club platform.

Prior to that, Ellis was a part of the production team for the Peabody and Emmy Award-winning series, CNN Heroes. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and Human Rights from Columbia University, as well as a Master’s in Journalism from Columbia Journalism School.

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