Feature: Biden's student debt payment suspension underscores ongoing problem in U.S.


  • World
  • Sunday, 31 Jan 2021

by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 (Xinhua) -- Chris Gomez, 35, has been struggling to pay off his student debt for several years.

"You need a master's degree for a good job and then you got this huge loan to pay off," he told Xinhua, adding that his loan for a master's degree was around 80,000 U.S. dollars.

His complaint echoes that of millions of others, amid the rising cost of higher education, and increasing workplace demand for advanced degrees.

IN DEBT FOR DECADES

While student loans were easy to pay off two decades ago, recent years have seen an astronomical rise in the cost of higher education, putting some borrowers in debt for decades.

Martin, 40, a Washington, D.C. area resident who declined to give his last name, said it took him over a decade to pay off his student loan of around 50,000 dollars.

He added that if he had put that money in the stock market instead of spending it on education, the payoff would have been five-fold by now.

In a nod to millennial voters, many of whom are in heavy student debt, U.S. President Joe Biden has extended the nearly year-long suspension on payments of student loans until Sept. 30.

That, proponents argue, will provide much-needed financial breathing space after nearly a year of draconian lockdowns that have sent the economy reeling.

Biden campaigned on providing student debt relief, and the most likely path for him will be a forgiveness plan for 10,000 dollars, at a time when the average amount owed per student is around 30,000 dollars.

Last year federal student loan debt hit record highs, approaching 1.6 trillion dollars and impacting around 40 million Americans, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Average loan payments range from 200 to 299 dollars a month, according to the U.S. Department of Education. That cuts into the income of those struggling paycheck to paycheck.

"It is a politically popular move, especially among young people, and a way to help them regain their footing in a difficult economy," Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Darrell West told Xinhua, speaking of Biden's extension.

"Others in the party would like him to go bigger than 10,000 dollars," West said.

PROS & CONS

Borrowers have been calling for years for some sort of student loan forgiveness, and many have applauded Biden's move.

Economists said people saddled with debt are less likely to spend money on big-ticket purchases that will benefit the economy, such as real estate or just general consumption. Personal finance experts said being burdened with debt means it's harder to save and invest.

But others said it's not as simple as it may seem, highlighting the possibility of negative unintended economic consequences of blanket student loan forgiveness.

Mary Clare Amselem, policy analyst in the Heritage Foundation's Center for Education Policy, argued on the think tank's website that forgiveness of student loans "sounds compassionate on the surface, but is actually a radically unfair policy," she said, echoing an argument that taxpayers should not be forced to pay off other people's loans, especially if the borrower is a high earner who could pay it themselves.

"I fear that extending the suspension of student loan forgiveness will only open the door for large-scale loan forgiveness down the road," she argued.

Some contend that education need not be so expensive in the United States.

A professor at a prestigious D.C. university, who declined to be identified, told Xinhua that at least at her university, the problem is the parents.

These days, American parents dote over their children even after they reach university age. They want their kids to have every comfort imaginable while at college, from new dining facilities to new dormitories to entertainment. That means universities need to hire an army of administration staff, and that's outrageously expensive, the professor said.

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