“You know, it’s not just about eliminating student loan debt, but it’s about creating jobs with decent wages, and [a] federal job guarantee,” she continues. “That means medicare for all and affordable health care so we can go to the doctor and stay healthy. If the Biden administration isn’t investing in the economic livelihoods of young black people, I wouldn’t be surprised if the turnout was significantly lower. [in 2024].”
Frederick Wherry, a sociology professor at Princeton University, says the pause in student debt payments “helped create a bit of a social safety net” that was sorely needed to prevent more Americans from being financially “devastated” by the pandemic. “The question for us now is whether or not the time is right to remove that safety net,” Wherry notes. “And if you’re going to take it down now, then you have to ask yourself: why now versus a future date?”
In 2019, Savannah Demand earned her master’s degree — and over $52,000 in student loan debt. She knew getting the extra degree would increase her total debt, but as a black woman entering the workforce, she felt she needed something to give her an edge. “You don’t see a lot of people who look like you and have a master’s degree,” she says. “Especially people like my mother, who is an immigrant. My mom was the first in her family to go to college, then her three daughters graduated from college, and I’m the first in my family to graduate.
Demand says she’s seen with her own eyes just how consuming student loan debt can be. “Paying off my mom’s student loans was never a priority, and I saw the impact it had on her as I was growing up and the effect it had on her finances,” she says . “So for me, paying off my student loans on time and quickly is very important… Whenever I think of wealth, it’s just the ability to have convenience and not have to worry about loans. “
Demand began repaying her loans shortly after graduating. But then the pandemic hit, the refund break came into effect soon after, and she was grateful for it. Without having to make that monthly payment, she has been able to invest money in other things that are important to her, such as travel, which she says has improved her mental health.
Demand claims that completely canceling student debt would allow Gen Zers like her to consider buying a home or contributing to the economy in some other way. Instead, young people — especially young people of color — feel stuck in a generational cycle of debt.
Ogunnaike, of Color of Change, points to the disproportionate burden of student loans in a 2021 poll conducted by the organization. She showed that “if black people had no student debt, 73% would have the ability to save for retirement, 53% would buy a home, 48% would leave jobs where they face discrimination, and 30% start their own small business,” she explains. “In many ways, student loan debt is an albatross on the ankles of young black women and low-income young people around the world.”