Politics

Is Biden Progressive Enough To Forgive Student Loan Debt?

While President-elect Joe Biden hasn’t committed to fully wiping out student loan debt, progressive Democrats have pushed for ways to relieve the financial burden impacting millions of Americans.

President-elect Joe Biden answers questions from the press at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware on November 16, 2020. / Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., talks with reporters after a news conference in the Capitol with Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., on the "EV Freedom Act, which would create a nationwide electric vehicle charging infrastructure on Thursday, February 6, 2020. | Getty Images
President-elect Joe Biden answers questions from the press at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware on November 16, 2020. / Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., talks with reporters after a news conference in the Capitol with Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., on the "EV Freedom Act, which would create a nationwide electric vehicle charging infrastructure on Thursday, February 6, 2020. | Getty Images

Anyone struggling to start a family or buy a home, hold down a job, and still pay $200 to $300 monthly on student loans — which in America, is a whole lot of people — can probably get behind the idea of demolishing steep debt incurred through the pursuit of higher education. That financial problem, plus the myriad of others gripping the nation this year, isn’t going away.

And yet, the prospect of government intervention in the trillion-dollar collective student debt of Americans has continuously divided moderate and progressive Democrats. Meanwhile, conservatives, plus some of those who have paid off their loans, wish no relief upon those who haven’t. 

During Joe Biden’s first speech about the economy on Monday as president-elect, in which he praised unions and urged President Trump’s transition team to cooperate with his own or else “more people may die,” he was asked about student loan cancelation.

"It does figure in my plan,” Biden said, adding that he supported a provision within the Democrat House’s COVID-19 relief bill, which would wipe out $10,000 in debt for student loan borrowers. A majority of students who graduated in 2019 owed nearly $30,000 upon finishing school, according to Student Loan Hero.

“They’re in real trouble. They’re having to make choices between paying their student loan and paying their rent,”  Biden added.

Biden’s comments reignited a conversation about debt cancellation, as millions of Americans are out of work with no COVID-19 relief bill likely to pass by the end of year. (The Trump administration has excused borrowers from making payments through December.)

For members of Congress, student loan cancellation isn’t just a pipe dream: in the Senate, Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in September proposed that the next president relieve up to $50,000 in debt for borrowers through executive action. That means President-elect Biden could feasibly provide relief without Senate support, as the majority hinges on two Georgia runoff races in January. 

Sens. Schumer and Warren also acknowledged that relieving student debt can “substantially increase Black and Latinx household wealth and help close the racial wealth gap,” citing research from the Roosevelt Institute.

Other Democrats in the House, including “Squad” members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), reiterated Monday that student debt forgiveness is a viable solution. Pressley, along with Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), introduced in March the Student Debt Emergency Relief Act, which would forgive at least $30,000 in debt per borrower. 

An overwhelming majority of Americans (87%) believe that borrowers struggle to pay off their student loans, according to an October report from Pew Charitable Trusts. Borrowers of student loans collectively owe more than $1.7 trillion — which was more than total debt for auto and credit card loans at the end of 2018, NBC News reported.

To state the obvious, many indebted borrowers know that a college education doesn’t necessarily guarantee the economic mobility it once did.

“Wages are stagnating. Even if a household reports middle-class income, its members can still buckle under severe debt burdens,” Sarah Jones wrote in New York Magazine. 

Jones continued: “[Debt] forgiveness itself has to happen, and not just because there’s a pandemic. It’s also the moral thing to do. Higher education doesn’t have to be this expensive. It isn’t — in plenty of other countries. College costs as much as lawmakers allow it to; the student-debt crisis persists for the same reason.”