On Aug. 24, President Biden announced student loan debt relief that will include up to $20,000 erased for Pell Grant recipients, $10,000 for everyone else making under $125k annually ($250k for married couples who file taxes jointly), and an extension on the moratorium on payments through Dec. 31.
There’s going to be a lot of discussion on whether this is enough, but one argument I keep seeing against student loan debt relief comes from people who have already paid off their student loans or taxpayers who never had to take out any loans but whose taxes would go to pay off others’ loans and believe it’s unfair to them that those who are still in crushing debt will see some relief.
I acknowledge that resentment, and while we’re on the subject of unfairness, I have some thoughts to offer for your consideration.
I think it’s unfair that most children in poverty in this country will never receive the benefits of a quality early childhood education, either because they can’t afford it or don’t have access to it, leaving them with a development disadvantage compared to their peers. I was one of them.
I think it’s unfair that most children in this country don’t have access to tutoring outside of school, meaning that with each passing year, they fall further behind their peers whose families can afford tutoring. I was one of them.
I think it’s unfair that there are millions of families who have to move constantly because of unsteady employment, and their children don’t receive the advantages of living in communities long term and building a support system with teachers and peers that support their development. I was one of them.
I think it’s unfair that there are children living in abusive homes and children who lack living essentials and children who can’t afford school supplies but are expected to compete with their peers who don’t have these problems, year after year. I was one of them.
I think it’s unfair that the quality of a child’s public school education is significantly based on the zip code in which they live, and that children from poorly funded public schools are expected to compete with children from wealthy zip codes. I was one of them.
I think it’s unfair that many children stop asking their parents for help with homework because by third grade they’ve learned, on their own, that their parents are unequipped to help them and they’ve realized, by that age, that asking their parents for help makes their parents feel bad. So, they stop asking for help. I was one of them.
I think it’s unfair that there are millions of young people who are told to study for college admission standardized tests like the SAT and ACT but must do so without the benefit of a prep program and must compete with young people who have access to all types of prep programs and tutoring because their parents can afford it. I was one of them.
I think it’s unfair that a young person is expected to compete for admission to an elite university against a young person who is likelier to be admitted solely because their parent attended that university, too.
I think it’s unfair that even if a young person has done everything right — good grades, good behavior, plenty of extracurriculars, etc. — she may still be denied admission because a lesser deserving young person has a parent who can buy a building on campus and claims that spot.
I think it’s unfair that extracurricular items that set apart young people on college applications are far more accessible to young people whose parents can afford their participation.
I think it’s unfair that, from their very first day of school, children with disabilities are at a distinct disadvantage across the board when it comes to competing for college admission because their schools and communities don’t want to invest in disability access, putting up nearly insurmountable hurdles for the vast majority of young people with disabilities.
I think it’s unfair that white children, regardless of class, receive all sorts of unearned advantages in the education system that make it easier to compete and that, from day one, children of color, particularly Black children, are targeted by implicit biases in schools, and I say that as someone who was once a white child in poverty.
I think it’s unfair that when I graduated from high school, my father apologetically handed me a $1,000 U.S. Savings Bond (he had scraped enough money together to it buy in the first year after I was born and said that was the best he could do to help me pay for school), and I think it’s unfair that I felt the need to comfort him because I, too, knew it was the best he could do and that it was a hell of a lot more than other young people got from their parents.
I think it’s unfair that, like millions of young people in this country, I knew that my best shot at being able to pay for college was joining the military and earning G.I. Bill benefits, and as grateful as I am for those benefits, there isn’t a month that goes by that I haven’t thought of how fucked up it is that any young person would need to literally pledge their lives for the benefit of disastrous foreign policy decisions made by politicians whose children will never have to do the same.
I think it’s unfair that Arlington National Cemetery is filled with the graves of young people who joined the military to pay for college and avoid crushing debt and were killed in needless wars and never got to see the life ahead of them, let alone use those benefits they had earned.
I think it’s unfair that military recruiters disproportionately visit schools where they know families are far more likely to be unable to pay for a college education, and as much as I am proud to have served my country in uniform, I think this practice is predatory and disgusting.
I think it’s unfair that politicians go into impoverished and middle-class communities and talk about how “college isn’t for everyone” and promote the benefits of learning a trade and I agree with that sentiment, but I notice they never seem to go into affluent communities and encourage their children to forego college and learn a trade.
I think it’s unfair that any politician with children in private schools would have the audacity to tell the parents of children in public schools what they should and shouldn’t do to achieve a better life.
I think it’s unfair that established professionals in any field would communicate to young people that they’re more likely to get internships in that field if they attend certain elite colleges that require crushing student loans to attend and this is somehow seen by anyone as appropriate.
I think it’s unfair that there are countless stories of young people who take out enormous loans to attend a good college and get a good job after graduation and make their loan payments on time and, somehow, wound up paying far more than what was lent to them because of predatory interest rates.
I think it’s unfair that many of the older people who downplay the crushing student loan debt faced by young people are the same ones who had to pay a fraction of today’s tuition for the same degree they once earned. Same for housing. Same for health care. Same for childcare.
I think it’s unfair that many of those in this country with extraordinary privilege are all too happy to pit middle-class families against working-class families against impoverished families and distract us from the fact that the system in which we all live only really works for them. And I think it’s unfair that this is by design.
Listen, I don’t think it’s particularly radical for any reasonable adult to concede that this whole damn system is unfair from the moment a child is born in this country.
So, when I see someone complain that they paid off their crushing student loan debt, so others should have to do the same, all I can think is:
Why would you want others to needlessly suffer just because you had to needlessly suffer?
I don’t have all the answers. I understand that alleviating this unfair system is complex and requires good faith and concessions from everyone in order to reach a fair compromise, and I don’t pretend to know exactly how we should go about that.
But I do think concessions should start at the top with people whose lives have benefited the most from this system.
And now that I’ve used a ladder that was passed down to me, I fully intend to make sure everyone else can climb it, too.
I think that’s more than fair.
Originally posted here on Charlotte Clymer’s Substack, Charlotte’s Web Thoughts.
Image credit: Tau Nu // Getty
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