As student loan borrowers wait for the Biden administration to issue an announcement concerning the student loan payment pause, a group of experts discussed the negative impact of student debt on Black women borrowers.
The panel, hosted by the Education Trust (Ed Trust), Black Girls Vote, Higher Heights, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness on Wednesday, discussed how student loan debt negatively impacts Black women more acutely than other borrowers and additional disparities Black women face because of the racial wealth gap.
Denise Forte, interim CEO of Ed Trust, noted how Black women with a bachelor's degree earn about the same wage as a white man with a high school diploma. Additionally, Forte spoke about how in 2019, the median Black household wealth was $24,100 compared to more than $188,000 for white households.
“We as Black women sit at the intersection of racism and misogyny,” Forte said. “So it should be no surprise that we carry the highest student loan burden and we graduate to a job market that offers us fewer opportunities and lower salaries.”
According to data analyzed by Ed Trust of the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) from 2016, Black women are borrowing the most out of all races and ethnicities. Black women on average owe $38,000 in student loans, including principal and interest, a year after they completed their bachelor’s degree, said Victoria Jackson, assistant director of higher education policy for Ed Trust.
That’s compared to white men and women, who on average owe $24,348 and $27,068 for a bachelor's degree one year after graduating. For graduate degrees, it’s even higher. Black women owe on average $58,252, while white men and women on average owe $25,905 and $29,323 for a graduate degree.
“Black women are shouldering the greatest burden from the high cost of college,” Jackson said. “College costs have risen dramatically over the past several years in large part because state funding for public colleges and universities has declined. This occurred while wages were stagnant and while the federal Pell Grant lost purchasing power.”
Additionally, other findings shared included an Ed Trust analysis of NCES data on student loan repayment from 2004. The analysis found 12 years after borrowers started college in 2004, Black women owed over 13% more in student loans than they originally borrowed compared to white men, who paid off 44% of their debt and white women who paid off 28%.
In response, panelist Shamell Bell, visionary escalator at Debt Collective and lecturer at Harvard University, said the findings show the “systemic failure” of how higher education is not seen as a right, especially for Black women.
“These are actual practices and policies that are disadvantageous to us Black women and others,” Bell said. “So if we continue to see it as ‘Education is not a right,’ then we're failing to realize that this is actually intentional.”
Lakeila Stemmons, national director of the political action committee Higher Heights, shared similar sentiments about the need for higher education to be a right for all. When asked about how higher education can transform to meet the needs of Black students, she pointed to coalition building and organizations working together to demand change. She noted action from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), who recently demanded President Joe Biden cancel at least $50,000 of student debt, particularly for Black borrowers.
“At the end of the day, we can't go about this alone,” Stemmons said. “Coalition building and being in community and conversation is the key. And that's how you put pressure on these institutions of higher education.”
Black borrowers also reported student debt harmed their mental health, according to data from Ed Trust, which surveyed 1,300 Black borrowers and found 69% of Black borrowers agreed that student loans have had a negative overall impact on their life. Additionally, 76% of Black borrowers agreed that student loans are a primary source of financial stress.
Erma Sinclair, a grant writer from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), spoke about her higher education journey and the “broken promises” she and other Black women have faced. She said she was promised a certain quality of life because she completed her degree, however the stressors of debt, depression, and anxiety created an isolating experience for her.
“It really needs to be said that mental health is not just about what happens in our mind, but it affects the whole body,” Sinclair said. “So when we talk about mental health in this conversation, we're talking about holistic health and wellness for Black women, period. That is the conversation that we want to center at NAMI — talking about the intersectional experience of Black women, the intersectional oppression, and the intersectional trauma that Black women in specific are experiencing.”
The panelists also discussed student loan forgiveness, including the possibility that the Biden administration would cap forgiveness for borrowers who make over $125,000. Natasha Murphy, chief of staff of Black Girls Vote, said her organization supports the Biden administration canceling student debt for all borrowers, especially all Black women.
“We recognize that yes, black women are plagued by income inequality,” Murphy said. “However, for those who have achieved a certain tax bracket, we know that oftentimes those resources don't just sit for ourselves or within our homes. We really are supporting the larger community, be it on a micro level or the macro level and those individuals are just as deserving for having their loans forgiven and canceled as well.”
Publication Date: 8/9/2022