Mr. President: do you want to be the most pro-worker and pro-union president?
My advice is simple: cancel the student debt.
Americans must collectively $1.6 trillion of federal student loan debt, affecting nearly 43.4 million American workers. The student debt crisis is fueled by a cycle of suppressed salaries, demands for higher degrees and rising costs in pursuing an education.
As a labor organizer and former Michigan State Workforce Director, who led Michigan’s No Worker Left Behind program, I have seen firsthand what access to a Affordable education and skills training can do to uplift workers and our economy. However, that opportunity ceases to exist in a system where rising student debt prevents workers from fully participating in our economy, buying homes, changing careers, and even starting families.
Studies indicate that 60 percent of all jobs in the US economy require post-secondary education and training beyond high school. Bureau of Labor Statistics research suggests that a bachelor’s degree is generally required to enter 169 occupations.
Thinking they were investing in their future, millions of working Americans went back to school or earned a college degree. In 1960, about 7.7 percent of the American population had graduated from college. Now over 37.5% of American workers aged 25 and over have at least a university degree.
But as students have graduated, they have entered a job market where salaries are dwarfed by tens of thousands in student loan debt. Over the past 40 years, wage growth for a typical worker has been 23.1%compared to a 169 percent increase in the cost of a college education in the United States In this world, investing in higher education is all too often not profitable. Add to that roughly 40 percent of workers in debt were unable to complete their studies.
Wage growth for black and Hispanic workers over the past 40 years has also lagged behind wages for white workers, increasing only 18.9% and 16.7% respectively.
Black workers are also harder hit by the student debt crisis, ahead on average of $25,000 more in student loan debt than white college graduates. Black women stand to benefit the most from debt cancellation, holding the highest average amount of debt among all demographic groups.
This crisis extends beyond age or generation, with the fastest growing population of indebted students be Americans age 65 or older.
Canceling student debt is not just a “young people” problem as we so often hear it. It is an issue of economics, labor rights, racial justice and gender equity that spans generations.
Although we must undertake a complete recalibration of our nation’s higher education policy to ensure that college is affordable again in the long term – and I am proud to lead America’s College Promise Act which will do just that and will provide two years of free community college to every American – immediate relief through student debt forgiveness will help working people today.
It’s a relief that people will feel immediately. It will relieve millions of working people of their debts and provide people across the country with a path to financial stability to buy a home, change careers, get married and have children. In the medium term, this will help grow the economy and empower workers with the freedom to compete for better jobs.
It is no longer a question of whether student debt should or can be forgiven. Survey after survey indicated that Americans want student debt relief. And President Biden and the Department of Education have already exercised their authority to cancel student debt, canceling about $17 billion for students ripped off by universities and starting to fix a broken public loan forgiveness program.
It is now about when student debt will be cancelled.
For workers across the country, we must boldly cancel student debt. Canceling $50,000 will make 76% of current borrowings debt freetransforming lives and delivering the greatest impact on racial justice.
Means-tested student debt cancellation is also unnecessary and costly. The majority of federal loans are owned by workers without family wealth, with 97% of all student debt is held by people earning less than $150,000. There is nothing to test.
For families crushed by higher costs as inflation soars, we need to do it now.
Mr President, the ball is in your court and this crisis can be solved with the stroke of a pen. The American people are counting on you.
Andy Levin represents Michigan’s 9th district. He is a member of the education and labor committee.