Last year, President Biden announced a plan to cancel $20,000 in student loan debt. This plan wound its way through the courts and was ultimately struck down by the undemocratic and rightwing-dominated Supreme Court. As of today, borrowers will once again be allowed to collect student loan payments, ending the pandemic-era debt relief for tens of millions of working class people across the country.
Since 1980, the cost of going to a four-year college in the US has tripled. The total cost for a four-year college in 1980 – including all expenses – was a little over $10,000 in today’s money. Now, the average cost is $36,436 per year. Many, many students take out significantly more loans than that to pay for cost-of-living expenses or to pursue graduate degrees.
Governmental support for higher education has also dwindled dramatically. In previous decades, working class families could rely on significant support via Pell Grants. Now, in order to attend a four-year college, families have to take out loans, starting their young adult life on the back foot by taking on tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Now, the average American carries $37,338 in student loan debt and more than 45 million people carry thousands of dollars in student loan debt. The burden of student loan debt is not held equally–Black college graduates owe, on average, $25,000 more than white college graduates.
During the pandemic, student loan payments were paused, buying months of relief for working families and young people. Student loan payments could just stop, like turning off a light switch, and the economy didn’t fall apart. Instead, when the payments were stopped, a new world opened up for some sectors of the working class, one where each paycheck didn’t have to be a scramble.
Jackie Wang in Carceral Capitalism put it this way: “The hold that debt has over our lives is not merely numerical. It functions as a disciplinary apparatus as we internalize the ideology that naturalizes indebtedness.” As we prepare to dole out 10-15% of each paycheck only to watch the total amount that we owe get bigger due to high interest rates, we cannot help but feel it not only in our pocketbooks but also internally. We can end this nightmare, but only if we act collectively to fight back against this unjust system.
As socialists, we demand better: We demand that all student debt – and medical debt, and carceral debt – be canceled and forgiven immediately. We demand public education from pre-K to college that is truly free for all to attend. Join us in this fight.