President Biden plans to cancel some student debt. Here’s why it should get big.

On Wednesday, Rep. Ayanna Pressley hosted a virtual roundtable with the Debt Collective to highlight how burdensome the student debt crisis has been for so many Americans. In the roughly hour-long conversation – which at one point included someone holding back tears as she described the shame and embarrassment she felt for having incurred so much debt for a degree from a for-profit college – people from different walks of life and life stages shared how their student loans had delayed their plans to buy a home, start a family or even pursue certain careers. College was a path to financial security, they were told, but it seems to have gotten them nowhere.

David Ormsby, a member of the Debt Collective who now works at Ford Motor Company outside Detroit, was a retailer when he decided to go back to college in order to earn a higher salary. Between working 40 to 60 hours a week, attending school and caring for his family – including his father, who suffered from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease – it took Ormsby nine years to complete his studies. “When I graduated, it was one of the proudest moments of my life,” he said.

But two years later, Ormsby found that his life had not improved. His salary had barely changed and he was now responsible for repaying his loans. He described it as the equivalent of two extra car payments per month. “I also have part-time jobs to help pay off my student loans,” he said, adding that at age 50 he will likely die before he pays off the balance. “The system here is sticking to my throat.”

Ormsby is not alone. Tara Sung, a medical assistant, was one of the first generation in her family to go to college. Her parents immigrated from South Korea, and she saw higher education as the surest way to be financially secure. And although she’s happy working at a women‘s health clinic in New York, high student loans have kept her from becoming a doctor. “I knew if I went to medical school I would owe hundreds of thousands by the end of it,” she said, adding that she had already racked up more than $100,000 in debt from her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

There is no doubt that canceling student loans can significantly improve people’s lives. Since the federal government froze repayment plans as part of the response to the coronavirus pandemic, Sung has been able to help his parents make ends meet. But once repayments begin, she says, that support will end. That’s why she’s put off any long-term plans to buy a house or start a family: She’s not sure what her finances might look like next year – or even by then. late summer, when the student loan repayment freeze could occur. to an end.

The stories of individuals, the faces behind the debt, and all that student loan forgiveness would do for them are often lost in arguments about student debt forgiveness.

Consider Pamela Hunt, another Debt Collective member and mother of eight. She was saddled with student debt of over $100,000 after attending one of the schools run by the former for-profit Corinthian Colleges Inc. Her debt prevented her from getting mortgage approval and she had to own a house. so that she can make necessary renovations for her disabled son, Joshua, such as installing ramps and wider doors.

When the federal government wiped out all student debt borrowed to attend Corinthian college — nearly $6 billion — due to the for-profit institution’s false advertising and predatory practices, Hunt was finally approved for a loan. mortgage. The only problem is that she still has tens of thousands of dollars in debt to attend the University of Connecticut, so the loan she was approved for isn’t enough to get her the home she needs for her son.

“Student debt impacts every aspect of your life,” Hunt said. It prevents you from getting other things you need to live, and in my case, I couldn’t afford a house for my family.

Biden often likes to talk about the “dignity of labor.” Well, people are working. In many cases, they are working multiple jobs to cover their student debt and they are still waiting for the government to grant them the dignity they have been promised. If Biden wants to change that, then he should finally cancel their student debt.


Abdallah Fayyad is a columnist for the Globe. He can be contacted at abdallah.fayyad@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @abdallah_fayyad.

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