Canceling Student Debt Is A Racial And Reproductive Justice Issue For Black Women
The solution is clear: we must dismantle these systems of oppression.
July 06, 2021 at 6:17 pm
Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.
As national student loan debt hovers over $1.7 trillion and the Supreme Court prepares to hear a case that could push abortion care further out of reach, young people’s futures are under attack — and Black women have the most to lose.
As a Black woman fighting for progressive solutions to political and social issues that matter most to young people, I understand the unlikely connection between student debt and reproductive justice. But make no mistake, both student debt and abortion restrictions obstruct our generation’s chance at a financially secure future.
When people are forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy, they not only face the immediate financial burden of the pregnancy, but also setbacks that are just as long-lasting as debt: they are three times more likely to be unemployed than those able to access an abortion and are less likely to have aspirational plans for the future. And the reality is student loan debt and abortion restrictions disproportionately harm young women of color, especially Black women.
Let’s start by looking at debt. We already know the national student debt crisis burdens young people as a whole, but this crisis hurts Black women more than their white peers. Black women carry 22% more undergraduate student debt than white women, limiting our ability to build generational wealth. But the burden of student loan debt doesn’t stop there. The racialized gender wage gap forces Black women to carry student loan debt for longer periods of time, and the gap grows wider throughout our careers, making it harder to pay off our loans. As a result, our student loan debt continues to mount as we progress through our 20s, 30s and 40s.
It’s no wonder millennials and Gen Z cite student debt as a barrier to planning for their futures, including starting a family. I personally have grappled with the decision of starting a family and paying off student loan debt. I put off thinking about a family for years until I got to a comfortable place with my student debt. Even now that I’m more financially secure, debt doesn’t stop impacting me — delaying pregnancy means that now I’m old enough to worry about potential pregnancy complications and risks that I otherwise could have avoided.
In the same way that student debt blocked me from starting a family on my own timeline, restrictions on abortion access prevent people from making free choices about when or if to start a family. Mandatory waiting periods, clinic closures and restrictions on medication abortion force us to travel long distances or delay getting the care we need, when we need it. These restrictions force us to take time off from work, arrange transportation and pay for child care — which isn’t guaranteed. Many of us can’t afford to take several days off of work or travel for two days for an appointment. Women who are denied abortion care and forced to carry the pregnancy to term have four times greater odds of living below the Federal Poverty Level.
I have spent most of my adult life trying to change the landscape for abortion access by supporting embattled clinics, fighting against abortion restrictions like the ones state legislators are ramping up this year and advancing policy solutions. I've seen people navigate these challenges, not one at a time but many at once, while faced with harassment, first hand. For instance, the burdens of student debt and abortion restrictions can compound on each other, and facing the financial consequences of each can be devastating.
And the situation is growing even more dire. This year alone, state lawmakers have introduced a devastating 500-plus anti-abortion bills. Student debt continues to loom, despite growing calls for debt cancellation and free college, and a person’s race, class, gender, location and sexuality can further stack the system against them. In the face of these attacks, we’re holding policymakers accountable and changing the landscape of student debt and abortion restrictions so the next generation can thrive without these obstacles to self-determination and financial autonomy.
We need to call on lawmakers to cancel student loan debt, offer free college, end abortion restrictions and support a pro-active abortion agenda so millennials and Gen Z have the freedom to make decisions about our futures, the freedom to decide if or when to parent, and the freedom to have control over our economic wellbeing.
No matter what we look like, where we live, or what’s in our wallets, young people want the same thing: the chance to reach our full potential. As our country starts to look like “pre-pandemic” times, with promising signs for the economy and job market, policymakers can’t overlook and ignore the needs important to millennials and Gen Z even before COVID-19 hit. Lawmakers looking for solutions to put people back on their feet must look at abortion bans and the student debt crisis as two barriers preventing young people, especially Black women and young people of color, from living fully and freely. Our futures depend on it.
Edwith Theogene is the director of advocacy for Generation Progress, the youth engagement arm of American Progress.
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