There are so many crises going on within our communities and in our country that are hogging much of the oxygen in our political arena. Whether it’s the fight to end COVID-19, rising rates of gun violence, or disagreements in the chambers – it seems like every day something new is a priority for Harrisburg lawmakers. and Washington.
But there is a long-simmering crisis impacting communities across our Commonwealth, regardless of age or political affiliation. The student loan crisis is undermining Pennsylvanians’ ability to thrive.
According to LendingTree, the average Pennsylvanian has $33,426 in student loan debt. This debt materializes at nearly 2.1 million borrowers in our Commonwealth with average payments around $300 per month. In addition, black students incur student debt at higher ratesand also borrow larger sums to fund their higher education.
This “average Pennsylvanian” number is staggering, yet it is something that I, like so many of my constituents, experience every day. I have student loan debt that has followed me my entire career, impacting so many of my decisions, from the jobs I’ve taken to the places I’ve lived. It really feels like a cloud hovering over your every move.
During this time of pandemic forbearance, Americans have tasted the power of financial freedom without the weight of student loans. Although student loan payments have been temporarily suspended due to the pandemic, personally I have been able to save more than ever, and when I choose to spend, my dollar goes further into the economy. These are tangible benefits for business owners and the long-term financial future of Americans.
Going to college used to be something that was complementary to high school and a chance to advance. As the cost of a college education has skyrockets and more and more careers are becoming beyond the reach of high school graduates, as is the mountain of debt that students, families, and graduates must shoulder just for the chance to land their first job.
This system does not work and we know it leaves borrowers with no options.
Last month, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro settled with student loan processor Navient over allegations they engaged in abusive practices and “targeted students whom he knew would have difficulty repaying their loans.”
This is just one example of how student loans hurt young people and their families who are simply trying to better themselves through higher education, and while I’m grateful that the borrowers in the Navient case will see some relief, there are communities across our state and millions across America who are still struggling with this type of compound debt.
We cannot delay this any longer. Millions of Pennsylvanians are being held back by the weight of loans that just don’t seem to be going away. This debt means people are putting off some of the most important milestones of their lives, including buying a home, saving for critical emergencies, starting and growing a family, and even retiring. Solving the student loan crisis is particularly important for closing the racial wealth gap. Young black college graduates, with higher debt levels, deserve a chance to start their own business, invest in their future through home ownership, and accumulate savings for the unexpected “rainy day.”
With inflation looming and the cost of goods and services rising, the timing has never been more critical for the student loan crisis to be addressed by our colleagues in Washington. The Pandemic Forbearance Program showed us the endless possibilities when Americans have the freedom to save, spend, and invest the money they’ve earned. As the midterm elections approach, it remains more critical than ever for the administration to deliver on its campaign promise and use executive power to write off student loan debt and give everyone a chance at true prosperity. .