- US Census researchers released a report detailing the impact of the pandemic on student debt.
- It found Black borrowers with no degrees were just as likely as white borrowers with advanced degrees to have student debt.
- Some Democrats believe canceling $50,000 in student debt per person will help close the racial wealth gap.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Even if they didn’t finish college, Black student-loan borrowers carry the same debt burden as a white adults with an advanced degree.
That’s what two statisticians found after analyzing US Census data on the burden of student loan debt before the pandemic. They also learned that women – Black women in particular – are more likely to carry debt than men, and that people with student loan debt were more likely to also have credit card or medical debt.
On Wednesday, Michael D. King and Lindsay M. Monte, census survey statisticians, and Neil Bennett, a census economist, released a report detailing the added economic hardship COVID-19 brought to those with student debt. Using data from the census’ 2017 Survey of Income and Program Participation, which provides information about debt holders in the years preceding the pandemic, it found that “Black adults were more likely than White adults at every educational attainment level to have student loans.”
Those who attended college but didn't get a degree were more likely to have experienced a loss of income in their household since the start of the pandemic, the report said, and they were more likely to report having a difficult time paying their typical expenses than those with a bachelor's degree.
Other findings from the data included:
- Black women were the most likely out of any group to have student debt - about one in four Black women had debt compared to one in eight white men;
- Women overall were 28% more likely than men to have student debt;
- And student debt was associated with more debt overall - 69% of borrowers with student debt had at least one additional type of debt, like credit card or medical, and those with debt on on top of their student loans often owed more in student loans.
"For instance, the median student debt of those with no credit card debt was $16,000 in 2017," the report said. "However, those with both student and credit card debt owed a median amount of $20,000 in student loans."
The pandemic has only exacerbated the economic hardships for those who were already carrying the most student debt. Even with pandemic relief, like the pause on student-loan payments and stimulus checks, most people immediately spent the checks to pay down debt, according to the census.
Insider previously reported that of the borrowers under student-loan company Navient who made at least one payment on their debt during the payment freeze, 63% of them are "underwater," meaning they are not even $1 less in debt than their original balances.
Disproportionate burden of student debt on Black borrowers
Although the student-loan system was created with President Lyndon B. Johnson's goal to curb racial and income inequality in mind, the opposite ended up happening, placing the student debt burden disproportionately on communities of color.
In April, Insider reported that 36 civil rights organizations released civil-rights principles detailing the benefits that student-debt cancellation would have on Black borrowers. The organizations, including the NAACP, wrote that Black borrowers typically owe 50% more student debt than white borrowers, and four years later, Black borrowers owe 100% more.
HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge even told Axios in June that poor people and people of color hold the most student debt, requiring reform.
"Who has student debt? Poor people, Black people, brown people," Fudge said. "We're the people who carry most debt. And so the system's already skewed toward us not being creditworthy."
Democratic lawmakers, like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, believe $50,000 in student debt cancellation per borrower will help close the racial wealth gap and even the playing field for Black borrowers.
"$50,000 would help close the racial wealth gap for those with student loan debt," Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren told Insider last month. "And it would wipe out all outstanding debt for about 38 million Americans, which would provide an enormous boost to our economy."