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Student Debt Reinforces the Racial Wealth Gap, Study Finds

September 26, 2019

The burden of student loans on young black people is a crisis that requires immediate policy action, argues a paper released Wednesday from the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University.

The report finds that 20 years after entering repayment, the median white student borrower has paid back 94 percent of their student debt. The median black borrower, meanwhile, still owes 95 percent of their student loans, or roughly $18,500.

Black borrowers experience more discrimination in labor markets and are more likely to support older relatives. But the hourly income gap between white and black workers is dwarfed by the size of the wealth gap, the report finds. In fact, the earnings gap has narrowed over the last 25 years, but the wealth gap has continued to grow.

White college graduates, who have more family resources to draw on for loan repayment, get a head start on wealth-building activities like homeownership, the report finds. The median first-time white home buyer is six years younger than the first-time black homeowner.

While holding student loans doesn’t affect college graduates’ income, negative wealth outcomes are a major financial consequence for young adults, the report finds.

“This is not, then, primarily a labor market story,” the report’s authors write. “It goes to legacy, institutions, policy, kinship networks, race, and the experiences of different groups with access to wealth-building opportunities.”

The report, called “Stalling Dreams,” was co-authored by Laura Sullivan, Tatjana Meschede, Thomas Shapiro and Fernanda Escobar of the Institute on Assets and Social Policy. Sullivan and Shapiro previously advised the Elizabeth Warren presidential campaign on a $1.25 trillion proposal to cancel student debt.

It also adds to a growing body of research into the racialized effects of student debt after graduation.

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Andrew Kreighbaum

Andrew Kreighbaum joins Inside Higher Ed as our federal policy reporter. Andrew comes to us from The Investigative Reporting Workshop. He received his master's in data journalism at the University of Missouri, and has interned at USA Today and a national journalism institute in Columbia, MO. Before getting his master's, Andrew spent three years covering government and education at local papers in El Paso, McAllen and Laredo, Texas. He graduated in 2010 from the University of Texas at Austin, where he majored in history and was news editor at The Daily Texan.

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