A Pathway to Racial Equity: Student Debt Cancellation Policy Designs

Raphaël Charron-Chénier, Louise Seamster, Thomas M. Shapiro, Laura Sullivan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Student debt in the United States has had a disproportionate negative impact on black and Latinx borrowers. We argue that analyses of plans proposing student debt cancellation should therefore foreground their potential impact on racial equity. To do so, we use data from the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances and model the impact of debt cancellation on four key policy outcomes (reach, impact on the most vulnerable borrowers, borrower wealth gains, and impact on racial wealth gaps). We examine universal policy designs as well as designs that incorporate an income eligibility threshold as a means of targeting benefits toward less affluent borrowers. We find that cancellation amounts ranging from $50,000 to $75,000 yield the most desirable outcomes, especially when paired with a relatively low household income eligibility cutoff at between $100,000 and $150,000. Such policies would cancel roughly half of all outstanding student debt without substantially expanding the racial wealth gap, while still reaching a large majority of borrowers and leading to substantial wealth gains, especially for black households.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4-24
Number of pages21
JournalSocial Currents
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2022


  • debt cancellation
  • public policy
  • racial inequality
  • student debt
  • wealth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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