COVID Crisis Exacerbates Burden of Student Debt for Women

Black Women and Low-Income Women Face Especially High Debt Levels and Weak Job Prospects

 – The global pandemic is making the country’s student debt crisis exponentially worse, according to a new analysis by the American Association of University Women. AAUW concludes that, unless policymakers take further action to combat student debt and bolster the U.S. economy, millions of women college graduates will face unprecedented burdens that will hamper their economic security for years to come.

Read the full 2020 Deeper in Debt report

AAUW’s analysis found:

  • Women hold more than two-thirds of the nation’s $1.54 trillion of student loan debt.
  • Black women, women who are the first in their families to attend college, and women who attend for-profit colleges hold more student debt than other cohorts (among those who have loans).
  • The class of 2020 is entering a job market with record-high unemployment, which is falling most heavily on women. Many graduates may also experience underemployment and jobs with inadequate benefits.
  • Side jobs that students have historically relied on to repay college loans (such as those in retail, the service industry and the gig economy) are disappearing amid the global economic crisis.
  • As they have in years past, women encounter a wage gap as soon as they graduate: Women in general are paid 82 cents for every dollar a man makes. Compared to white, non-Hispanic men, Black women make 62 cents on the dollar and Hispanic women make 54 cents on the dollar.

“The Class of 2020 is facing an untenable situation. They are graduating to record unemployment, a student debt crisis and the gender pay gap,” said Kim Churches, AAUW’s chief executive officer. “Even in a strong economy, student debt hurts the ability of women to buy homes, start a family or save for retirement. Unless we take decisive action, we’re crushing the future of a generation of women.”

“While the CARES Act provides some assistance, it is nowhere near enough. What’s more, it does not nearly begin to address the distinct burdens of women of color and women from low-income families,” Churches continued.

AAUW is calling on policymakers to:

  • Extend emergency aid. Build out assistance programs to ensure help is available to all students with the highest need, regardless of immigration status.
  • Cancel student debt. Forgiveness of at least $10,000 in student debt is a good beginning to enable America’s 45 million borrowers to increase personal income and contribute to the economy in significant ways.
  • Bolster federal grants. Congress must ensure that the maximum Pell Grant is increased as the program’s purchasing power is at the lowest it’s been in decades.
  • Close the gender pay gap. The Senate needs to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would close loopholes in Equal Pay Act, including strengthening penalties for equal pay violations, banning the use of salary history in hiring and prohibiting retaliation against workers who talk about wages.

Other Resources:

Kim Churches is available for interviews. Contact Mary C. Hickey at 202.785.7748 (work), 973.819.3608 (cell) or