During this day and age, young adults are all too familiar with the commonality of student loan debt. Many students accept the reasons to undertake it, think they understand how they will pay it back and are so concerned with the burden of repaying their debt that it has become a focus of political conversations when choosing a candidate. The issue continues to affect millions of Americans today and disproportionately affects Black, Indigenous and people of color, or BIPOC. Government officials are making little to no progress on effective solutions that eliminate debt accumulated from our educational system.
In a study published by the American Behavioral Scientists, Krysia Mossakowski found that the percentage of Black people with a positive net financial status is 25% less than it is for white people. Furthermore, Black people are 60% less likely to ever achieve positive net financial status than whites. According to a 2016 study by Despard, Perantie, Taylor, Grinsten-Weiss, et al., over 75% of post-secondary education students had taken out loans with Black students at a greater likelihood of accumulating student debt. In the same study, non-graduates (who were more likely to be Black) were found to have a 15% greater probability of financial difficulty than graduates. Significant factors associated with the perpetuation of systemic racism in the economics of higher education have often been neglected in conversations among policy makers and government officials when forming solutions that address this disparity.
BIPOC who pursue post-secondary education are typically at a social and economic disadvantage compared to their white counterparts who, on average, enter and leave college with greater financial stability and less student loan debt. The 2016 study also found that BIPOC students also face negative outcomes stemming from their financial instability, including skipping medical care or dental appointments, not buying pre- scribed medication, facing food insecurity, and experiencing mental health symptoms of depression or anxiety. Consequently, BIPOC students face higher risks of drop- ping out of college and accumulating a large amount of loan debt or graduating with a degree that is unlikely to propel their career forward. Without a competitive degree or degree at all, these individuals struggle to ob- tain jobs that will provide them a sufficient income to escape their debt or provide them capacity to move up in their careers. Tradi- tionally, the motivator for taking on debt to obtain a postsecondary degree is to achieve upward social mobility. However, even with a degree, BIPOC still face discrimination in the labor market with employers often pass- ing up qualified Black Americans in order to hire their underqualified white counterparts. These scenarios highlight the multifaceted nature of BIPOC’s experiences within our academic institutions that predispose them to lifelong financial hardship.
In light of this year’s racial reckoning sparked by George Floyd and many other BIPOC who have died from police brutality condoned by government impunity for law enforcement and other institutions of power, student loan forgiveness offers an opportunity for our government to practice anti-racism. The negative effect of young adults living with student debt on our economy is one that cannot be overlooked. Moreover, we know that BIPOC are disproportionately affected by this — both in terms of wealth and psychological effects. We owe it to our fellow humans to create immediate mental health solutions within our academic institutions and equitable student loan forgiveness programs outside of them.