True Size of the “Student Loan Voting Bloc” Far Larger than Reported.
A recent Newsweek article by Darrogh Roche estimated that the “student loan voting bloc” is the largest in the country. The reporter relied on demographic data focusing on 18–40 year-olds, along with various survey data. The headline of the Newsweek piece is right, but the underlying analysis is completely wrong.
By focusing only on this younger age group, the article vastly under-estimates the true size of this voting bloc.
In Fact: older student loan borrowers(i.e. over the age of 35) now outnumber younger borrowers (under 35). Similarly, people over the age of 50 outnumber people under the age of 25 with student loan debt. Importantly: the older groups in both cases owe far more than the younger group (by a factor of 3), despite having borrowed far less,
- There are more people over the age of 50 with student loans (8.5 million) than people under the age of 25 with student loans (7.8 million), and they owe, on average, far more ($41,058 compared to $14,807).
- There are more people over the age of 35 with student loans than under the age of 35 (22.7 million vs. 22.6 million), and they similarly owe far more on average ($41,881 vs. $27,256).
There are over 43 million federal student loan borrowers. More than 85% of them were either not paying (over 50%), or were paying but with increasing loan balances before the pandemic. So the true size of distressed student loan borrowers was at least 38 million people before the pandemic.
Moreover, there are an additional 10–15 million borrowers (and cosigners) with private student loans. Assuming a similar percentage of distressed borrowers, this give us upwards of 45 million distressed student loan borrowers in the country. These people vote.
Critically: This is a bipartisan group of people. Over half of people who attended college identify, politically, as being either republican or independent. Over 40% of borrowers never graduated. “Red” states are being hurt far worse than “blue” states. This problem affects left-leaning and right-leaning voters in roughly equal measures.
Also, the default rate for 2004 borrowers is 40%, but this group was borrowing less than a third of what is being borrowed today. It is not unreasonable to estimate that the default rate among all current borrowers was easily going to exceed 70% even before the pandemic. The sub-prime home mortgage default rate, by comparison was 20%
The lending system is in catastrophic failure by all rational metrics. The “Student Loan Voting Bloc” is far, far larger than reported.
There are two solutions to this problem. At a minimum, uniform bankruptcy rights must be returned to these loans. S.2598 must be passed this session, and President Biden should immediately order the Department of Education to stop opposing student loan borrowers in bankruptcy court.
At this point, however, it is probably more efficient and expedient to simply cancel the loans, and re-invent the higher education financing system in this country. Federal student loans were clearly a bad idea.