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U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on August 16, 2021. (Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Biden Could Set Millions of Debt-Ridden Americans Free With the Stroke of a Pen

Tens of millions of us are weighed down by crushing student debt. Debt relief would be a game changer.

Sa'iyda Shabazz

 by OtherWords

President Biden campaigned on a promise to help relieve student debt. Now, after over a year of punting on the issue, he says he's finally thinking about doing it.

A poll from January found that nearly 70 percent of Americans support some type of student loan forgiveness. About half that many support forgiving it all entirely.

Student loan forgiveness would be a game changer for so many people, myself included.

My student debt is a dark cloud that hangs over my head. It's not that I don't want to repay my student loans—it's that I simply don't know how to do that and survive. It feels impossible to do both.

There are millions of Americans who feel the same. All together, 45 million borrowers in this country owe a total of $1.7 trillion—a crisis that's accelerated as wages have failed to keep up with the skyrocketing costs of college, housing, and health care.

Based on current statistics, 11 million student loan borrowers are in default, delinquency, or forbearance. Many of these will simply never be able to repay their debt.

For the first time in my adult life, I have a stable income coming in, which has helped my family feel a little more secure. But even now, more than half my salary goes to rent, and we still need money for food, bills, and other expenses.

My partner is a freelancer, so I'm the breadwinner in our family. But as a writer and editor, I'm always worried my salary could disappear in a second. As it is, there's a lot of month left at the end of my money. I don't see how full repayment is possible.

For me, the only hope of getting the monkey off my back is student loan forgiveness. So many politicians have put it on their docket so many times since I graduated that it feels like a myth. You know—mermaids, unicorns, student loan debt forgiveness, and universal healthcare.

Student debt weighs down Americans from all walks of life, and it shows. A poll from January found that nearly 70 percent of Americans support some type of student loan forgiveness. About half that many support forgiving it all entirely.

But this debt weighs more heavily on some than others.

My fellow Black women lead the way (53 percent) in supporting cancellation of all debt, which isn't surprising. Thanks to historic inequality in wealth and income, one in four Black adults have federal student loan debt.

Millennials have the most student loan debt (23 percent of us), while 27 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 44 have student loan debt. As a Black millennial woman, I check all those boxes.

For people like me and many, many others, debt relief would offer a new lease on life—or at least make it more manageable.

"Canceling $50,000 of student loan debt would give 36 million Americans permanent, total relief," according to Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). "That would be the end of their debt burden. And it would aid millions more by significantly reducing the principal on their debt."

For me, $50,000 would barely scratch the surface of my principal, but I sure wouldn't refuse it.

Unfortunately, President Biden appears to have ruled out even considering that much. But he could still forgive an amount that would make a dent in my partner's debt, which would alleviate stress for us both. With the pandemic payment reprieve coming to an end soon, we'll have to come up with some sort of strategy, if any is possible, for repayment.

Student debt relief may feel like a unicorn. But for my family and tens of millions more, it's one we desperately need to be real.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
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Sa'iyda Shabazz

Sa’iyda Shabazz is a writer, editor, and mother. This op-ed was adapted from and distributed by

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