Student Loan Debt Is a Gender Issue, Especially for Women of Color

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Former Ohio state Senator and current candidate Nina Turner speaks near the U.S. Department of Education in D.C. on April 4, 2022, as organizers demand full student debt cancellation. (Leigh Vogel / Getty Images for MoveOn & Debt Collective)

Associate director of programs Morgan Johnson and campaigns and organizing associate Emily Escobar of the United State of Women share their student loan debt stories and call for the cancelation of student debt as an investment in women. 

Johnson: For Black Women Like Me, This Is My Reality

My dream was to become a public servant, so I decided to get my bachelor’s degree in government and politics. But upon my graduation, I realized there was a glaring lack of representation; Black women were not in positions of power in public service. I asked around, spoke with mentors and realized that furthering my education would provide me with important skills and grant me the credibility I would need to succeed. To afford my graduate degree, I had to take out loans. At the time it seemed a small but necessary risk that would bring me one step closer to achieving my dream. 

In May 2019, I graduated with a master’s in public policy. I was $40,000 in debt. As a graduate student, I faced institutional racism and microaggressions from peers and faculty who questioned my ability. Yet, watching Judge Jackson’s confirmation hearing was a triggering reminder that as a Black woman, I can be the best for a job, but still be met with doubt steeped in misogyny and racism.

The student loan payment pause has provided a helpful cushion for me throughout the pandemic as expenses constantly increase. If the pause is lifted and repayments start in August, the combination of systemic pay inequity and my student loan debt will make it difficult to cover my monthly expenses, let alone plan for my future.

Morgan Johnson

The professional and academic reality for Black women leads to very real economic disadvantages. For Black women like me, this is my reality.

Even though Black women’s rate of college-level education has increased at a faster pace than white men’s, the wage gap has not substantially improved on the same scale. The gender earnings ratio between Black women and white men with a Bachelor’s degree is 62.5 percent. Simply put, Black women carry the most student loan debt of any racial or ethnic group, yet we do not make enough money to pay off our loans.

The student loan payment pause has provided a helpful cushion for me throughout the pandemic as expenses constantly increase. If the pause is lifted and repayments start in August, I am certain I wouldn’t be able to sustain the same lifestyle I am grateful for now. The combination of systemic pay inequity and my student loan debt will make it difficult to cover my monthly expenses, let alone plan for my future.

I am not the only one facing this dilemma. The student loan debt crisis is at an all time high, with 45 million people carrying an estimated $1.7 trillion in federal student loan debt. Women carry roughly two-thirds of it. Black women are disproportionately impacted by this issue. 

That’s why the United State of Women launched our “Student Loan Debt is a Gender Issue” campaign, centering stories of women of color and calling on President Biden to cancel $50,000 for every borrower. 

Why $50K?

The racial, wealth and gender pay gap widens each day cancellation is delayed. At $41,466.05 on average, Black women owe the largest amount of debt. To truly address gender and racial inequality, President Biden must use executive action to cancel $50,000 of federal student loan debt for all borrowers. 

That’s why we are following the lead of Black women organizers calling for President Biden to cancel $50,000 of federal student loan debt. This amount is enough to make a significant impact for women borrowers across the country.

At the center of this campaign are stories from real women who have been impacted by the student loan debt crisis. Their stories highlight the structural barriers that make it difficult for women, especially women of color, to pay off their student loans.

Escobar: My Dream as an Immigrant Should Not Come at Such a Steep Price

As a Guatemalan immigrant who grew up in the United States, I was told the route to financial success was a college degree which would help me attain a well-paid career. Growing up in a single parent, low-income household meant I needed to take out student loans to afford my college tuition. The average family wealth for Latinx families is $20,720, compared to $171,000 for white non-Hispanic families. This is the reality for many Latina women like me. My goal to complete college and fulfill my dreams should not come at such a steep price. 

We are fed false promises that college will bring us long-term economic success. But due to the burden of student loan debt and interest payments, these hopes of financial gain are totally out of reach for me.

Emily Escobar

I became the first in my family to graduate from college and I soon secured a job I felt passionate about, but my student debt held me back from the start.

I live paycheck to paycheck, unable to save money to purchase a car or a place of my own. Building generational wealth is difficult for Latino immigrant families, as many of us were displaced from our homelands and came to the U.S. with nothing. We are fed false promises that college will bring us long-term economic success. But due to the burden of student loan debt and interest payments, these hopes of financial gain are totally out of reach for me.

The New Payment Pause Extension Is Not Enough

Earlier this month President Biden put another band-aid on the student loan debt crisis. Though the federal student loan payment pause until August helps provide small relief to borrowers, it also perpetuates anxiety and uncertainty, especially for Black and Brown women borrowers. 

Economic inequality, as influenced by class, race and gender, further increases each day student loan debt cancellation is delayed. 

Take Action

Join us in the fight for student debt cancellation by signing our petition calling on President Biden to fulfill his promise to cancel student debt. You can also wear your call for student loan cancellation on your sleeve. Shop our new collection in collaboration with Social Goods and snag a new baseball hat, tote or sticker pack. 25% of proceeds are donated to the United State of Women.

United State of Women aims to create a world in which all women and marginalized genders can thrive. Through education, community and action, USOW amplifies issues at the intersection of gender and racial justice and galvanizes organizations, public figures and everyday feminists of all genders to drive policy and culture change. Learn more here

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About and

Morgan Johnson is the associate director of programs at the United State of Women, where she manages the Ambassador Program and USOW's organizational partnerships. She is from Bowie, Md., holds a B.A. in government and politics and a master's in public policy from the University of Maryland, College Park.
Emily Escobar is the campaigns and organizing associate at the United State of Women, where she works to support the development of USOW’s digital issue based campaigns. She was born in Guatemala and raised in Los Angeles. She holds a B.A. in women's, gender and sexuality studies from California State University, Long Beach.