What Will It Really Take To Solve The Student Debt Crisis?

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The federal moratorium on student debt payments ends today, meaning student loan interest payments will resume on October 1. In addition to inflated food prices and soaring rents, young working-class people are about to be on the hook for additional hundreds of dollars a month. 

The initial student loan moratorium was passed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the context of broader government relief to working people, such as stimulus checks, which showed how much the federal government could potentially do to support working people. 

This will have a particularly devastating effect on Black graduates, holding the largest share of student loan debt – around a third of Black adults hold student loan debt, versus around a fifth of white adults, and 14% of Hispanic adults. Furthermore, Black graduates’ median student loan debt is higher, around $30,000, whereas the median lies at around $23,000 for white borrowers, and $17,600 for Hispanic borrowers. While a college education is presented to young people as a way to improve their economic situation, crippling student loans and a lack of generational wealth make “the American dream” less and less feasible for all young adults, but particularly Black adults. 

What Have Biden And The Democrats Done?

On the campaign trail, Biden promised to cancel $10,000 of student loan debt, which would have been a welcome relief for many borrowers but still was not nearly enough for what most people face in student loan debt. After a recent Supreme Court ruling, Biden’s plan for minimal student debt cancellation is dead in the water, without a sliver of a fight from his administration or the Democrats. The Biden administration’s only response to the Supreme Court ruling has been to say that they are pursuing a different method that they believe is “legally sound” in going through the Higher Education Act; however, without a fighting movement, this process will likely face similar obstacles.

The progressives’ response to Biden’s failure has been lackluster at best. AOC said that Biden’s plan “doesn’t go far enough,” but she only calls for payments to be further paused while the legalistic process continues. AOC and other progressives should be building a movement to fight for demands like student debt forgiveness, and broadening out the fight for free public college and taxing the rich!

Build A Movement!

When looking for an alternative to Biden and the Democrats, people often look to grassroots activists, such as the Debt Collective or the Student Debt Crisis Center, which have organized around student debt cancellation for years. The Debt Collective has its roots in the Occupy Wall Street movement and has played a huge role in researching and putting student debt cancellation on the political map. 

However, these organizations largely now focus on building petitions and call-in campaigns, or overly legalistic approaches to canceling student debt such as most recently “seeking litigation” to challenge the Supreme Court ruling. While strategies like petitions and call-in campaigns can be effective, they need to be done in tandem with a broader movement on the streets and in our workplaces to pressure the government to take action. We can look at how it was a mass movement that pressured the Supreme Court to pass Roe v. Wade in 1973, despite a Republican majority Supreme Court. Under the pressure of a mass movement, the technocratic arguments around obstacles to providing relief to working people crumble. 

Independent democratic socialist candidate for president, Cornel West, has received criticism for not having a concrete plan beyond his campaign promise of canceling student debt. However, even with a supposed “concrete plan” of Biden’s campaign, working people still have no end in sight to crippling student loan payments. More important than the specific legalistic strategy is the movement built on the streets behind it – one that sees student loan debt as a broader problem with a society that puts people over profits. Without pressure from below, the Supreme Court won’t hand deliver working people a single victory. Cornel West’s campaign for president provides working people with the opportunity to organize around these issues and fight for the relief working people need!

We call for:

  • Cancel all student debt!
  • Free public college for all!
  • Tax the rich to fund public education!

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