Student Loans Worsen Racial Inequalities In America

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Student Loans Worsen Racial Inequalities In America
For a disproportionate number of Black Americans, paying back these debts often turns out to be a lifelong struggle.
SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Special education teacher Tameka Jackson has been renting this house on the south side of Chicago for over 10 years. 

"I want a home, but according to all of this, will I ever be able to afford a home?" Jackson said.

She dreams of buying her first home and moving her family to a safer neighborhood.

"I have a 16-year-old that I worry about because it is gang violence over here, they are recruiting," Jackson said.

But she is trapped because of the hundreds of thousands of dollars she owes in student loans. 

"I'm not able to sustain and live comfortably," Jackson said.

Growing up poor, Jackson charted a new course by doing what no one in her family had ever done — pursuing higher education. It was something she was only able to afford by taking on many student loans. 

"School was the only thing that kind of saved my life," she said. "I had no money. My mom was strung out on drugs."

Today, she says her loans add up to more than $500,000.

The 40-year-old says multiple family tragedies and her modest salary as a public school teacher made it all but impossible to reach financial stability. 

Her financial situation illustrates a troubling fact about student loans in America: They worsen racial inequalities.  

"Student loan debt is contributing to racial wealth gap, largely because Black people have been discriminated against and the wealth divide is enormous" said Andre Perry, a senior fellow at Brookings.

Today, the average White family has nearly eight times the wealth of the average Black family. As a result, Black students are more likely to take out student loans — and to borrow more when they do. That wraps them up financially for longer periods of time. 

"The reason why many more — as a percentage — Black and brown people, particularly Black people, have to take out student loans is because we were denied wealth-building opportunities for most of the history of the United States," Perry said.

For a disproportionate number of Black Americans, paying back these debts often turns out to be a lifelong struggle.

Twenty years after starting college, the average Black borrower still owes 95% of their student debt.

Brandeis University researchers say that compares to only 6% for the average White student nationally. 

As for Jackson, she urges lawmakers to cancel as much student debt as possible to free people like her from stifling financial burden.