A student debt jubilee could kickstart US economic recovery

Rana Foroohar:

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Millennials have overtaken baby boomers as America’s largest bloc, and they and those younger than them will comprise nearly as many voters as all older generations combined in G7 countries by the end of the decade.

But large swaths of younger Americans reject the country’s political system. Research by the Centre for the Future of Democracy shows that a far lower percentage are supportive of democracy than boomers, Gen X, or, of course, the interwar generation. Perhaps that’s because they have so little economic stake in the system. Millennials make up close to 25 per cent of the population but hold only around 3 per cent of US wealth. Boomers, who held 21 per cent of wealth at the same period in their lives, still control the vast majority.

That’s one key reason that Democrat Joe Biden campaigned for president on cancelling $10,000 of student debt for every federal borrower, a $400bn proposition. Crushing student debt — the average four-year college graduate has $30,000 of it — prevents young people from buying homes, cars and other consumer goods. That is, in turn, a major headwind for the economy.

At the end of January, pandemic-related student loan relief is scheduled to end, and the 43m Americans who have student loans will have to start paying them back unless further relief is approved. And so, the idea of a student loan jubilee — this term for mass debt forgiveness comes from the Old Testament — is once again on the front burner. It is a good idea — but only if debt relief is targeted to those who really need it, and accompanied by a host of other reforms.