Here’s the top story on WashingtonPost.com:
Student loan case could be another blow to Biden’s racial equity push
From community college to pre-kindergarten, Biden’s efforts to close the wealth gap have struggled
By Toluse Olorunnipa and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel
Toluse “Tolu” Olorunnipa is the White House Bureau Chief of The Washington Post, and the co-author of “His Name is George Floyd.” …
Danielle Douglas-Gabriel covers the economics of higher education, writing about the financial policies that determine a student’s access to education and ability to complete a credential.
March 4, 2023 at 6:00 a.m. EST
Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar did not mention race in Tuesday’s appearance at the Supreme Court, but her impassioned defense of President Biden’s student loan relief program had a second, unmistakable purpose: It marked a last-ditch bid to protect one of the last remaining pillars of President Biden’s effort to shrink the racial wealth gap.
The racial wealth gap is in the trillions.
The $400 billion program, which was consciously tailored to address the reality that Black Americans shoulder a disproportionate share of the nation’s student debt, faced a frosty reception from several justices, who questioned whether Biden has the authority to enact such sweeping changes without Congress.
While the outcome will affect millions of Americans, it will be especially central to the fate of Biden’s racial equity push, an effort marked so far by modest successes and major setbacks. From free community college to universal prekindergarten to a child tax credit to aid for students at historically Black colleges and universities, key building blocks of Biden’s broad effort to shrink the age-old financial gap between Black and White Americans have fallen by the wayside.
If the justices’ skeptical questioning is reflected in their final decision, student loan forgiveness could be next.
Biden promised Black voters he would be a different kind of president, one who did not just pay rhetorical tribute to equality but one who took concrete action to improve African Americans’ position in society. And as he prepares a reelection campaign focused largely on rebuilding the economy, many of those voters, while blaming Republicans for blocking equity initiatives, also ask if Biden could have done more.
“Right now, I would give him a B for effort and a C for execution,” said Rodney Brooks, author of “Fixing the Racial Wealth Gap.” …
Against that backdrop, the student loan relief program stood out as one initiative that could have an immediate impact on racial disparities. More than 25 million people applied for the program after Biden announced the program last year, and the White House emphasizes that the forgiveness of up to $20,000 in student loans would target borrowers with the highest economic need, helping “narrow the racial wealth gap.”
…Biden himself had been initially skeptical of the push to have the federal government cancel hundreds of billions of dollars in student debt, even as the idea grew in popularity during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. But after he took office, Black leaders redoubled their efforts to convince him to support broad student debt cancellation, framing the issue as one of racial justice….
Black students take out loans more often, borrow more money and are more likely to fall behind on payments, research shows. Judith Scott-Clayton, a professor at Columbia University, found that before the pandemic, nearly half of Black borrowers experienced defaults within 12 years of starting college.
A yawning wealth gap and the high cost of college have fueled their reliance on loans, while labor discrimination and income inequality made the debt difficult to repay, said Jalil Mustaffa Bishop, an assistant professor of education at Villanova University.
“With Black borrowers, it’s not just that they’re in debt, it’s that student debt pushes them into a negative wealth hole,” Bishop said. “It takes widespread transformative policies to get them out, really just to get them to zero, to even start building wealth.”
Biden’s plan was structured to tackle some of those problems, offering $10,000 in relief to most borrowers and $20,000 for people who had received Pell Grants, which go to students with limited financial resources. Nearly 71 percent of Black undergraduate borrowers are Pell Grant recipients, twice the share of White borrowers, so the program was set to reach a large number of Black Americans, according to the White House.
It’s striking that just 13 years ago, the pitch for ObamaCare was not that it was better for blacks (which it was), but that it was better for ordinary Americans. Since then, the zeitgeist has changed so much that the Washington Post argues, in effect, that the latest Democratic initiative is Good because it will dispossess whites.
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