“OK Boomer” won’t suffice this time—older and middle-age Americans who oppose student loan “forgiveness” plans are old enough to know the truth: Nothing as expensive as a college education can ever be free. The burden for that loan would merely be shifted onto the backs of taxpaying Americans.
Yet the Democrats see student loan forgiveness as part of a strategy to hang onto the House and the Senate in November. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, even forms her argument for buying young people’s votes in moral terms.
“Doing so would lift the economic outlook for too many borrowers who still weren’t able to get a college diploma, for the millions of female borrowers who shoulder about two-thirds of all student loan debt, and for Black and Hispanic borrowers, a higher percentage of whom take on debt to attend college compared to white students, and have a harder time paying it off after school,” she wrote in the New York Times last month. “With the stroke of a pen, the president could make massive strides to close gender and racial wealth gaps.”
But the facts show she’s wrong about each of these points—and that far from closing wealth gaps, student loan forgiveness would be a massive transfer of wealth from the working class to upper-income individuals.
What’s more, this approach is deeply immoral. Progressives who support student loan forgiveness because of the racial implications are seeking to reestablish the worst parts of the world’s and America’s past—policies that explicitly favored one race over others—but with their preferred races as the beneficiaries. But previous policies in America that favored Whites were not unjust because they favored the wrong race, they were unjust because they favored any race over others.
Student loan forgiveness is also wrong because it’s regressive—it hurts the poor and middle class more. Virtually no one thinks that it is appropriate for the government to provide handouts to those with high incomes in the name of charity. Yet, to a disturbing extent, that is precisely what loan forgiveness would do. The reason for this result is that student loan debt is concentrated among high earners.
Research shows that “the highest-income 40 percent of households (those with incomes above $74,000) owe almost 60 percent of the outstanding education debt. … The lowest-income 40 percent of households hold just under 20 percent of the outstanding debt.” This means that student loan forgiveness would disproportionately benefit upper-income households because they hold most of the outstanding student loan debt.
Of course, Democrats will counter that only bitter Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) oppose student loan forgiveness. That’s mostly untrue—as is Sen. Warren’s claim that “by a margin of more than two-to-one, Americans support providing some student loan debt cancellation…”
What Americans sympathize with is the burden of student loan debt—a burden caused not by a lack of scholarships, GI Bills and other pathways to a college education, but by the enormous and skyrocketing cost of college. And what Americans support is relief from crushing debt for the poor. But student loan forgiveness is not the right approach.
So, what should we do about unaffordable student loan debt instead of forgiveness? We recommend two approaches. First, stop providing loans to students in programs that consistently fail to prepare their students sufficiently to repay their loans. We estimate that about 10% of college programs fall into this category. Second income-driven repayment plans already
ensure that payments are always affordable for the entire lifetime of the student. Changing the default loan repayment from the traditional 10-year plan to an income-driven repayment plan would completely solve the problem of unaffordable debt.