I Thought I'd Need A Ph.D. To Compete With White Men In Corporate America. Now, I'm Drowning In Student Debt.
Like so many other Black women who are primary breadwinners for their families, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and my own student loan debt have weighed heavily on me.
July 06, 2021 at 6:26 pm
Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.
As someone with two advanced degrees and 20 years of experience in my career, I should be in a position where I’m financially secure and can plan on investing, buying a home or starting a family. But so many Black women like me are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to being able to build wealth for ourselves and our families — we carry the biggest burden of the student loan debt crisis. As a 38-year-old Black woman juggling work, family responsibilities, and a ballooning student debt repayment that continues to prevent me and my family from achieving financial mobility, I struggle with this burden first-hand.
As a professional Black woman, I decided that I needed a Ph.D. to move ahead in my career and compete with the white men who were so often getting jobs over me with fewer qualifications. This required taking on even more student debt, and so what started out as “manageable” debt of around $30,000 after undergrad turned into $150,000 in federal student loan debt after getting a Master's and Ph.D.
Like so many other Black women who are primary breadwinners for their families, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and my own student loan debt have weighed heavily on me. It’s gotten to the point where my student loan debt is taking a significant impact on my family’s livelihood and my ability to fully support them. I do everything in my power to support my family, but so often I feel like I’m just barely scraping by, being straddled with over $100,000 in student debt — especially when the bulk of my monthly income goes to paying my bills and financially supporting multiple family members.
In total, about 15% of my income goes toward supporting my family. I pay for my mother’s car payment so she can care for my grandmother, who needs care on a daily basis. I’ve also had to help pay my brother’s college tuition and continue to foot the phone bills for several extended family members. My husband, who is a chef, lost income during COVID-19, and so I have been carrying extra financial weight as a result. And as the primary breadwinner in my household, my student debt is forcing me to make difficult choices around starting my own family and continuing to help out relatives in need.
Even though I’m at a level in my career where I should be acquiring generational wealth, investing or starting a family, my student debt and family commitments are preventing me from breaking the cycle of generational dependence. My student loans are one of the biggest reasons I’ve waited to start a family. I want to be able to afford children, and want to be in a place where my children don’t have to worry about taking out student loans. This crushing student debt is preventing me from moving forward with these pivotal decisions in my life.
Black women and their families shouldn’t have to be in this impossible position, struggling between student loan repayment or being able to start or support families and build wealth. Over 44 million Americans carry more than $1.7 trillion of student debt, and Black women carry more of this student loan debt than any other group. This is a direct result of the racial wealth gap and gender pay gap we are up against.
Despite the fact that Black women continue to do everything in their power to overcome these systemic barriers by graduating college, getting advanced degrees and joining the workforce in record numbers, Black women still aren’t guaranteed the same economic security as our white peers. And oftentimes, we have no other choice than to take on more student loan debt to go back to school for advanced degrees to try to overcompensate for this. For women of color, regardless of whether or not we reach a certain income, most of that income goes to being stuck in a sometimes decades-long cycle of paying off student loan debt.
This is why I support the calls of countless organizations, including the ACLU and 1000WomenStrong, calling for the Biden administration to cancel up to $50K in student debt. For me and my family, student debt cancellation would mean I could more confidently support my family and have kids. It would also help secure financial stability and economic mobility for Black women like me, who are disproportionately burdened by loans, while addressing the debt crisis for millions. I’m asking the Biden administration to take action now.