In a recent speech on the House floor, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) called it “ridiculous” that she needs to pay $17,000 in student loans — although her annual salary as a member of Congress is $174,000.
“I’m 32 years old now,” the lawmaker said. “I have over $17,000 in student loan debt, and I didn’t go to graduate school because I knew that getting another degree would drown me in debt that I would never be able to surpass. This is unacceptable.”
Let’s stop advancing this narrative that student loan debt is for the privileged.
Do we really think a billionaire’s child is taking out student loans?
First-generation college students are twice as likely to report they are behind in making student loan payments. pic.twitter.com/KyGnrJCjNq
— Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@RepAOC) December 3, 2021
As noted by Foundation for Economic Education policy correspondent Brad Polumbo, Ocasio-Cortez earns more than double the average American household’s income. He also pointed out that if properly managed, her debt is, in all probability, very manageable:
Ocasio-Cortez’s $17,000 in student loan debt sounds like a lot, but it probably only involves a monthly student loan payment of $100-$200. It’s hard to know exactly what her payment is without being familiar with the specifics of her loans, but $100-$200/month is a reasonable estimate given that the average graduate owes $28,400 total, which equates to a $297 monthly payment.
During her speech, Ocasio-Cortez called the notion that “student loan debt is for the privileged” nothing more than a “false narrative.” Polumbo, however, explained that her position contrasts with analyses on both sides of the aisle:
This part of Ocasio-Cortez’s speech is simply factually false and detached from reality. No, student loan debt isn’t held by the children of billionaires, a straw man claim no one ever made, but it is disproportionately held by a well-educated and thus higher-earning slice of the public.
This fact is not really in dispute among serious analysts. One study found that “canceling” all student loan debt would give the top 20% of income earners six times more benefit than the bottom 20% of income earners. Even left-leaning think tanks such as the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution have reached similar conclusions.
“Pay your own darn bills,” Polumbo concluded on social media.
As the debate over student debt cancellation emerges once again in progressive circles, Ocasio-Cortez was not alone in using herself as an object lesson.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) said on the House floor that she is likewise struggling to repay her obligations: “I worked full time, Monday through Friday, and took weekend classes to get my law degree. And still, close to $200,000 in debt. And I still owe over $70,000 and most of it was interest.”
Rep. @RashidaTlaib: “I worked full time, Monday through Friday, and took weekend classes to get my law degree. And still, close to $200,000 in debt. And I still owe over $70,000 and most of it was interest.” pic.twitter.com/STGxo70JlS
— The Hill (@thehill) December 5, 2021
“She’s a perfect example of why we shouldn’t forgive student loans,” Walsh tweeted. “She makes $175,000 a year and wants the tax payer to assume her debts? No, pay your bills you deadbeat. Student loan forgiveness is upper class welfare.”
“Half of all student debt is held by people with graduate degrees,” he added. “The idea that this is some kind of persecuted class of people who deserve tax funded debt forgiveness is absurd.”