Debt inequities, COVID-19 impacts complicating outlook for Black graduates

Black graduates across the country are reeling as they transition from college to the workforce while grappling with the effects of racism and police violence, the coronavirus pandemic, stark student loan debt inequities—and a keen awareness of how the color of their skin complicates their career prospects. Recent unrest has been “a reminder that your blackness will always define you,” Stephan Lally, a 21-year-old graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey, told MarketWatch. “No matter how well you speak, or how educated you are.” 

Disparities in wealth-building, loan debt burdens

Among Black young adults, college graduates tend to perform better economically than their peers without a college degree; however, overall, Black graduates reap less of an economic benefit from their college degrees than their white counterparts. Decades of discriminatory policies against Black Americans have made it harder to build generational wealth. The median net wealth among Black, older millennials with at least a bachelor’s degree is $6,422, compared with $60,030 among white, older millennials with the same level of education.  

Further complicating matters, Black adults often graduate from college saddled with student loan debt. Among graduates of four-year public colleges, 82 percent of Black students graduate with debt, compared with 68 percent of white students. According to the American Association of University Women, Black women finish their undergraduate education with more debt than most other groups. And while Black student borrowers aren’t as likely to use private student loans as their white peers, those that decide to go that route are “four times as likely to as their white peers to face distress in repayment,” according to The Hechinger Report

COVID-19, labor market implications further compounding stress 

“Regardless of race, class, gender, the job market is going to be difficult for anyone to enter,” Russell Boyd, national field organizer for the NAACP’s Youth and College division, told MarketWatch. “As a young Black graduate, there are so many things that go into the stress of even attempting to look for a job at the moment,” he said. Even with the same level of education as their white counterparts, Black workers are more likely to be unemployed during an economic downturn, said Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute. “If you’re in an economy where employers can choose who they want, they can choose to discriminate, they can choose to have workers who have more experience,” she said. 

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