There’s an old black proverb, “When white people catch a cold, black people get pneumonia.” This means that any problem that hits America generally will hit black America worse. We see this almost everywhere we bother to look: health outcomes, economic policies, environmental issues — whatever hits whites, hits blacks harder. About the only case in which this trend is reversed is with the virus of fascism: black people seem to be slightly more resilient than white people to the lure of white ethno-nationalist authoritarianism. Imagine that.
When it comes to the student debt crisis, a new study by the Education Trust shows that whites get the common cold, blacks get pneumonia, and black women get the goddamn bubonic plague. Women of all races carry two-thirds of the $1.7 trillion in outstanding student loan debt in this country, but black women carry more per capita, carry it longer, make less money and have less help when trying to pay off their debt. It’s a grim picture: Black women are essentially being punished for daring to improve their prospects through education and credentials.
Black women sit at the intersection of racism and misogyny, so one might have expected their student loan burden to be greater than that of other groups. But the sheer disparity presented in the report (which you can read completely here) surprised me. Black women who completed four years of college graduated with an average of about $38,000 in college debt, compared to about $35,000 for black men and $27,000 and $24,000 for white women and men, respectively . Another way to express these numbers is that black women graduated with nearly 60 percent more debt than their white male counterparts.
The numbers go up when you talk about graduate school. Black women pursuing postgraduate education walk away with an average of about $49,000 in debt, compared to just about $29,000 for white women — a nearly 70 percent increase in the debt burden. This seems like a good time to mention that Republicans have no intention of helping women of any race pay off their educational debts, but believe the government can live in a woman’s womb rent-free if she becomes any time and under all circumstances becomes pregnant.
Black women have the least amount of help paying off this debt. Only 9.5 percent of black women said they received help from family or friends to pay off their student loans within 12 months. This compares to 15 percent of black men, 20 percent of white women, 21 percent of white men, 25 percent of Asian men, and 30 percent of Asian women. When you consider that black women earn less than any other group, that a black woman with a bachelor’s degree or better, on average, earns just a little more than a white man with some college but no degree, the higher the debt with less help all the more devastating.