What the student loan payment pause has meant to Black women

By Danielle Douglas-Gabriel

April 3, 2022

“It almost feels like a raise,” said Lisa Jackson, 56, who owes $175,000 for her son and daughter’s college educations. “With the money I would have given towards the loans, I paid off a little outstanding tax debt, which I don’t know I could have done otherwise.”

The payment moratorium has touched the lives of many Americans, but it has perhaps meant the most to the group who stood the most to gain from it — Black women, like Jackson, who shoulder a disproportionate share of the $1.7 trillion student debt burden.

Women hold two-thirds of education debt, an analysis of federal data by American Association of University Women shows, but Black women have the highest average total at $41,466 for undergraduate and $75,085 for graduate school one year out from graduation. The study found that women overall borrowed an average of $31,276 — for undergrad and $51,035 for graduate studies.

“A lot of Black women are pursuing additional credentials, going back for graduate work and having to take on debt to do so,” said Fenaba R. Addo, an associate professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “It’s a contributing factor to their debt levels.”

We talked to Black women about what the payment pause meant for them. Some purchased homes or opened savings accounts. Others invested for their retirement or caught up on other bills. There was an overwhelming appreciation for the reprieve and some dread as it is set to end in May (though the Biden administration has been urged to extend it again).