Having student loan debt is almost like being a sharecropper – really

WASHINGTON — History would show that debt and interest payments have impeded the progress of the common man. This would be true for post-slavery American Blacks and to a lesser degree, for those today with student loan debt.

“Following the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, most freed people lacked land or money and had to continue working for white plantation owners,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. These folks were known as sharecroppers.

Opportunities did not exist to accumulate savings or wealth, receive bank loans, or gain certain jobs, which were illegal for Blacks. Reading had just become legal for Black ex-slaves.

Today, the institution that controls 92% of the $1.77 trillion in student loan debt is the federal government.

If you seek higher education to advance economically in America and have a rewarding career, with few exceptions, unless you are affluent, you are forced to use student loans.

Over 43 million Americans hold an average of $37,000 in student loan debt. In the 1970s, it was a little over $1,000.

As a slave, the period for paying off your debt to the slaveowner was, well, forever. In 1867 Congress passed the Peonage Act in concert with the 13th Amendment to put a halt to the practice. But forms of sharecropping existed in some locations until the end of World War II.

Internationally, France’s use of debt over Haiti has kept the country impoverished for centuries, making it one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. But I digress…

Today, the average period for paying off student loans is 20 years.

What does this do to folks? Why does the federal government treat its best and brightest in this manner? Why do colleges and universities get federal research grants, pay zero in taxes, hold endowments in the billions of dollars, and are able to charge up to $80,000 a year for a student to attend their school?

The young naive student does not even have a job yet, but is already accumulating debt.

If you fail to pay or on time, the damage to your credit score will cause you to pay high interest rates on any and everything you would want to buy in the future, including a home (mortgage) and car (loan), thus compounding your economic woes.

The fact that we have inadvertently used this same model to hurt our own children of all hues and nationalities is sad.

President Joe Biden’s heart is in the right place, but his approach to solving the problem is “buttocks backward.” Biden has been rebuked by the Supreme Court for the unconstitutionality of his debt forgiveness plan. He has also been unable to devise legislation that would be acceptable to Congress.

I do not profess to have the answer to this problem, but I do know what the long-term answer is not.

Simply eliminating the debt of everyone or even for a chunk of Americans is not the solution. It is a temporary fix. It buys votes.

Biden’s solution would allow the “student loan debt engine” to continue to entrap others for generations. His plan is not fair to those who did not take out student loans or did not go to college. The plan does not make those students who did pay off their loans feel any better. Simply stated, Biden’s approach is seriously flawed.

But that does not mean that there is not a problem. That does not mean that Congress, the private sector, and colleges and universities, along with the White House, should not work together to fix it.

We cannot continue to do to our talented idealistic youth what slaveowners did to Black people after the Civil War.

Due to slaveowners’ self-determined interest rates, Black people were saddled with debt for decades. If they lost their employment, they faced abject poverty. Often the folks keeping them in debt were the same folks who would not employ them. Many were evicted from their homes due to successive seasons of bad crops.

We have seen a similar “movie.”

There was a time when healthcare costs were totally out of control, resulting in high insurance premiums and uncontrollable Medicare and Medicaid costs. This system left many people with medical bills or without coverage at all.

The doctors were free to charge and perform medical procedures with little oversight. This was a problem. Insurance companies sought to gain more control.

Managed Care was introduced by the private sector in the 1990s. It is a healthcare delivery system used by many Americans today. In fact, many doctors are part of Managed Care systems. It allows for greater control over medical expenses. It establishes a gatekeeper approach when determining the need for certain medical services.

Well, the cost of a college education, graduate and professional schools are also out of control.

It places all but the wealthy at a significant disadvantage in life. The wealthy do not have to be concerned with a sizable chunk of their salaries going to student loans repayments, as they have no student loans. But everybody else does.

Worse yet, our best and brightest – not the wealthiest – often opt to go to a lesser school because it is what they can afford. They do this, but can still accumulate some modest debt.

We can fix the student loan debt problem. Unfortunately, students do not have high paid lobbyists advocating for them in Congress. And, unfortunately, the current agenda for Congress has little to do with helping our youth – the folks who will one day be tasked with steering our democracy into the future.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today