Spotlight on Student Loans:

Bastille Day: The Democratic Approach and Student Debt

Bastille Day: The Democratic Approach and Student Debt

Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité: YOU have a voice in your government

Taking a leaf out of the American playbook inaugurated thirteen years earlier, French peasants stormed Bastille fortress prison in Paris on July 14th, 1789, changing the socio-political landscape of France forever. The bloody revolution that ensued had mixed results, as the short-lived democracy was supplanted by a succession of different dictators until the Third Republic was formed in 1870 after their humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian war. Surviving these decades of political tumult, however, the Tricolore (tricolored flag) remained the principal symbol of France, along with its motto of “liberty, equality, and fraternity.” Of those, French prize the first above all, a characteristic shared with Americans.

What does liberty mean for us?

When Americans staged their own revolution in 1776, unreasonable taxation was among their guiding motivations. To this day, every child learns the phrase, “No taxation without representation,” in school. But July 4th, Independence Day, remains a complicated holiday, one that rings hollow for some whose ancestors were enslaved while the “Founding Fathers” signed their names to a document that proclaimed “all men are created equal.” This last year revealed racial divisions in our nation to many, but within the Black community, those schisms have always been apparent. The phrase “with liberty and justice for all” isn’t ringing true for all Americans, and we need to acknowledge that; we still have a lot of work to do.

Inequality on the economic front

Racial inequity permeates every sector of American society, including the economy. Even though economists often consider themselves colorblind, research shows that race-blind economic policy more-often-than-not benefits white citizens the most. We just commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre—which is finally being widely acknowledged—but there are similar, lesser-known stories in cities throughout the country which saw the destruction of prosperous Black neighborhoods, like the paving over of the Rondo neighborhood in Minneapolis/St. Paul for I-94, the “urban renewal” of Walnut Street in Louisville, and so many more. This legacy persists today, sadly, and Black businesses still face major hurdles to financial success, despite government programs to combat them.

Further compounding the racial wealth gap, Black Americans have greater difficulty accessing higher education and—when they do—have to rely more on student loans. These problems are further compounded by the difficulties faced by Black borrowers in repayment, such as uneven success with income-driven repayment plans, which results in higher rates of default. Organizations such as the Student Borrower Protection Center are doing what they can to bring these issues into the light, calling on Washington to recognize the student debt crisis as a civil rights crisis.

Amending the student debt cycle

For those struggling with student debt, Public Service Loan Forgiveness can be a lifeline. It was created in 2007 as part of a bill to address the precipitously climbing cost of higher ed. PSLF promises debt cancellation to those who work for ten or more years in the public service industry, giving back to their communities as employees of governments, non-profits, and certain other organizations. While not perfect, the program can open doors to careers that otherwise could be seen as requiring too expensive an education. Although it’s suffered significant growing pains over the last fourteen years, President Biden and the Education Secretary Cardona are working to streamline it to promote greater efficacy.

At Navigate, we’re all in on PSLF; even with its flaws, we believe in its power to change lives. It’s a complex process, and we recognize that it’s not for everyone, but it can be a complete game-changer for those who qualify. Those who stick it out can see up to 25%, 50%, 75% or even more of their debt cancelled after ten years, which can radically alter a borrower’s financial forecast. And to prove that we really mean business about “justice for all,” we offer a reparations rate for BIPOC clients. PSLF is a  potent equalizer, making higher ed more affordable for all, and we’re committed to making PSLF more accessible to all.

A fraternal America for all

If the last few years have taught us anything about our nation, it’s that it remains a fractured one. Political divides seem as cavernous as ever, the pandemic exacerbated our steep economic differences, and the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright, and many others brought the deeply broken reality of our justice system into the national spotlight. In a famous Independence Day address in 1852, Frederick Douglass asked powerfully, “What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”

Are we ready to grab our torches and pitchforks? Are we ready to storm the jails, city halls, our local courts? Hopefully we’re not to that point; hopefully we still believe in the dream of America, in its promise of liberty. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed in 1964 that “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” It still rings true today: we still have a lot of work to do. But there is hope as long as we join hands in fraternity, working to lift each other up, to build an America that truly embraces “liberty and justice for all.” To echo the ending paragraphs of Frederick Douglass’ famous speech: “Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country… I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope.”

For those pursuing PSLF, they’ve had the added benefit that these months of forbearance have counted toward their 120 qualifying payments required for forgiveness. The economy, however, remains fragile, and many are wondering what will happen as student payments resume in the coming monthsnot to mention the end of expanded unemployment benefits for millions of Americans.