Story at a glance
- Women stand to significantly benefit from Biden’s plan, as they borrow an average of about $31,000 in student loans while men borrow an average of about $29,000.
- Upon graduating and entering the workforce, women are paid on average 83 percent of what men are paid.
- Women also lost nearly 1 million more jobs than men during the coronavirus pandemic, exacerbating long-standing economic disadvantage.
Women are poised to benefit greatly from President Biden’s historic student debt forgiveness plan, as they not only hold higher loan balances on average than men, but also face a gender wage gap and have disproportionately left the workforce or lost jobs since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden announced on Wednesday borrowers who did not receive a Pell Grant and earned under $125,000 annually would be eligible to have $10,000 of their federal student loan balances forgiven. Those who did receive a Pell Grant could be eligible for $20,000 in forgiveness, with the same income cap.
Women stand to be significantly impacted by Biden’s plan, as they borrow an average of about $31,000 in student loans while men borrow an average of about $29,000, according to a report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW).
Black women carry the most substantial debt burden, taking out about $41,000 in undergraduate loans, including principal and interest, one year after graduating. AAUW found white women borrow about $33,000, Asian women around 27,000, and Hispanic women about $29,000.
“The burden of student loan debt is especially heavy for Black and Hispanic borrowers who on average have less family wealth to rely on to pay for college. And the pandemic only made things worse. This relief helps to narrow the racial wealth gap and advance racial equity,” Biden tweeted.
AAUW CEO Gloria Blackwell applauded the president’s loan forgiveness decision but acknowledged that student loan debt remains “an enormous obstacle to both gender and racial equity.”
Citing a recent study from the organization, Blackwell noted that “women of color are encountering the ‘perfect storm’ of challenges repaying student debt, due to the combination of the racial wealth gap, the gender and racial pay gaps, and economic instability caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Upon graduating and entering the workforce, women are paid on average 83 percent of what men are paid. Women of color earn about 57 percent of the wages of non-Hispanic white men.
AAUW also found that women’s anticipated salary after graduating was $35,338, which was only 81 percent of men’s expected earnings. Without childcare, that typically leaves a woman $148 per month – after costs like utilities, medical expenses, food, housing, andcar and student loan payments. With child care, that salary would typically put a woman in a monthly deficit of $372.
Women lost nearly 1 million more jobs than men during the coronavirus pandemic, exacerbating a long-standing economic disadvantage. They have also borne the brunt of caregiving responsibilities during school closures and local lockdown measures.
Though most job losses incurred from the start of the pandemic have been regained, women are still faring worse than men.
The National Women’s Law Center found women are still experiencing a net loss of 100,000 jobs since February 2020—while men have recovered all of their net job losses and now hold 132,000 more jobs in July 2022 than in February 2020.
Debt forgiveness can help, especially among Black women, experts say. The Congressional Black Caucus applauded Biden’s forgiveness plan and chairwomen Joyce Beatty said, “even before applying the additional $10,000 for Pell grant recipients, the average Black borrower will see their balance cut nearly in half, and more than 1 in 4 Black borrowers will see their balance forgiven altogether.”
That could free up resources for Black women who want to buy a home, car or build intergenerational wealth.
Sarah Sattelmeyer, project director for education, opportunity and mobility in the Higher Education initiative at New America, told Changing America that Biden’s plan would also help women of color that have disproportionately been burdened by student debt and the fallout of the pandemic.
“This announcement will provide much needed relief and is an important step toward fully supporting those in the higher education system and with student loans,” she said.