A familiar debate over student loan forgiveness reignited on Monday when president-elect Joe Biden told reporters that the policy “figures into his plan” when he takes office.
Some people are against cancelling student debt because they’re conservatives who don’t believe in the government helping anyone, or because they’re cynical Democrats who consider such a policy “unrealistic.” But still there exists a type of naysayer I consider far more obnoxious than all the others: people who are opposed to student loan forgiveness because they’ve already paid theirs off.
These people typically emerge on Twitter whenever the progressive policy becomes a subject of discussion, solely for the purpose of reminding their peers that “going to college is a choice” and insisting that anyone can complete a decade’s worth of $1,000/month payments if they “hustle.” If you couldn’t get around accruing student debt, they helpfully suggest, why didn’t you work a part-time job to pay your way through school like they did?
“I think Dems are wildly underestimating the intensity of anger college loan cancelation is going to provoke,” Damon Linker, a senior correspondent at The Week, tweeted on Monday. “Those with college debt will be thrilled, of course. But lots and lots of people who didn’t go to college or who worked to pay off their debts? Gonna be bad.”
Comments like the above suggest this isn’t a nonexistent group of people, but it’s certainly worth questioning how “bad” such a backlash would be. Currently, 45 million Americans collectively owe about $1.6 trillion in student loan debt. The majority of these borrowers are millennials, who are in more student debt than any generation that preceded them, partly contributing to the fact that they’re delaying starting families and owning homes. Women and people of color are also significantly more burdened with debt than their white male counterparts.
Those who might tell us that cancelling student debt is too “pie in the sky,” or too risky due to some imagined reprisal should consider the risks of not cancelling student debt. A lot of people, for example, are quite angry that they have lived in a constant state of precarity for years, that they haven’t been able to save money, take a vacation, or make ends meet without a mix of full- and part-time jobs and “side hustles.”
Biden’s debt cancellation proposal is more modest than the ones Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren rolled out during the Democratic primaries, which promised to void all or most student debt. During his campaign, Biden supported a plan for cancelling $10,000 per borrower, and on Monday he referenced House legislation that named the same amount.
Still, being relieved of even $10,000 in debt has the potential to transform the course of a life. If that idea makes you mad, I suggest trying to figure out how to care about other people.