Biden Has Promised To Forgive Student Loans — Is That What is Best For America?

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Photo by MD Duran / Unsplash

While academic pressure may be gone after graduation, students entering the job market must confront the stress of academic loans.

Recently, many politicians, including senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), have called for president-elect Joe Biden to forgive up to $50,000 in student loans via executive order. Although Biden was hesitant when asked previously, in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic and the current economic crisis, while on the campaign trail at a town hall in Miami, he promised to “eliminate your student debt if you come from a family [making less] than $125,000 and went to a public university.” He has also said he would make sure that everyone gets $10,000 knocked off of their student debt load. Biden’s promises are less progressive than those of the aforementioned Senate democrats, but they have still sparked heated discussion on the issue.

Student debt has steadily increased in recent years. 42.3 million Americans owe a total of $1.54 trillion in federal student loans alone, and that number will only continue to increase as more people choose to pursue a college education.  Student debt has become seen as largely inevitable, and it is a huge stressor for graduates and those considering pursuing a degree. As Bronx Science students make decisions about our futures, the cost of college is inevitably on many of our minds. Numerous Bronx Science students agree that the government should offer student loan forgiveness. “Student loans basically punish those who want a higher education,” said Ilias Papageorgiou, ’23.  

Joe Biden has affirmed his support for student loan forgiveness on multiple occasions, such as in this Twitter posting from March 22nd, 2020.
(Nora Sissenich)

Biden’s promises, coupled with ever-increasing student debt and financial troubles during the Coronavirus pandemic, have initiated discussions about the obligations of the government in addressing this major issue. In a New York Times opinion piece, professor, writer, and social commentator Roxane Gay looks at the issue through the lens of morality, asserting that “many Americans are concerned with fairness only when they think someone else might get something they won’t get. And they are seething with resentment as they imagine a country in which we help one another.”

Gay ultimately asks readers the question: what do we owe our fellow Americans? She goes on to explain that supporting others is part of the social contract that we have implicitly agreed to, pointing out that, “I don’t have children, but some of the money I pay in taxes goes toward education. This serves the greater good and indirectly benefits me. We’re all paying for infrastructure we don’t personally need or use. It’s part of the social contract, but that contract holds up only when we are all willing to abide by its terms.” Perhaps in thinking about student loan forgiveness, we should examine our beliefs surrounding supporting others in our society. Why are so many so quick to object against policies from which they will not directly benefit?

Nevertheless, while many may agree with providing support to our fellow Americans, a good number of people object to current proposals for  loan forgiveness. Among the criticisms of plans intended to address the student debt crisis is the fact that they would primarily benefit upper-class households.  Plans labeled as “progressive,” such as Senator Warren’s, would actually only offer 34% of the benefits to the bottom 60% of households, since households belonging to the top socioeconomic classes hold the most student debt.   

Others feel that current policies do not help those who are financially struggling the most, since poor Americans facing food and housing insecurity are largely not college educated. Perhaps in our current economic crisis, spending a significant amount of money to support only a select group of people is unfair, especially since those without a college degree have been impacted the most by the Coronavirus pandemic. Student loan forgiveness, even if only partial, would be expensive, and only those who have received a college education, primarily upper class Americans, could benefit. Many feel that this is not a good way to help Americans who are really struggling during the pandemic.

Still, there is growing consensus that something must be done in order to address this crisis. Economists predict that by 2021, student loan debt in the US will surpass $2 trillion. This is much more than just a big number. On an individual level, it means that Americans leaving college will be saddled with ever increasing debt, contributing to financial stress. Evidence shows that student loans have negative consequences on people’s mental and physical health. The impact on generations who will be paying off their loans for years to come cannot be overstated.

Professor, writer, and social commentator Roxane Gay looks at the issue through the lens of morality, asserting that “many Americans are concerned with fairness only when they think someone else might get something they won’t get. And they are seething with resentment as they imagine a country in which we help one another.”

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