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Lawmakers, Union Leaders Push $50,000 Student Debt Forgiveness

June 22, 2022, 8:32 PM

A group of Democratic lawmakers joined the AFL-CIO and member unions in calling on President Joe Biden to cancel $50,000 of student loan debt per borrower, a move they said is vital for working-class Americans.

The president can forgive the debt via executive order “with one stroke of a pen,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said at a roundtable discussion Wednesday.

“At its root, organized labor is about giving workers a chance to live and to thrive. It’s the audacity to fight for better wages, for reasonable hours and safer working conditions,” Pressley said. “We know that canceling $50,000 per borrower would help millions of union families get back on track.”

The White House has yet to announce any definite plans for large-scale student loan cancellation, although Biden has expressed support for canceling $10,000 per borrower.

Wednesday’s renewed interest in $50,000 debt forgiveness comes after a May report from the Higher Education, Race and the Economy Lab at the University of California, Merced found that amount of cancellation would wipe all debt for 76% of borrowers.

Over 43 million Americans owe a total of $1.762 trillion in combined federal and private student loan debt, according to the Education Data Initiative.

More than 40% of those borrowers didn’t even receive the degree for which they took out the loans, trapping them in a cycle of late payments, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at the roundtable event. After failing to graduate, these individuals are relegated to low-paying jobs in order to stay afloat and pay off what they borrowed.

“Instead of college being a ladder up, the debt has become an anchor down,” he said.

Educators, nurses, factory workers, and other trades dominated by women and marginalized communities would benefit greatly from wide-reaching student debt cancellation, union leaders said, echoing the lawmakers’ comments.

“We made a commitment to people: go to college, get a career, find yourself, be part of the American Dream,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “We need to make sure that debt is extinguished so that people can have the American dream.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jalen Brown in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Laura D. Francis at; Genevieve Douglas at