In March 2020, then-President Donald Trump declared a “temporary pause” on federal student loan repayments. Last week, President Biden announced the sixth extension of the pause, which now will stretch to Sept. 1 of this year.
The original justification for the moratorium on loan payments has long since evaporated. Amid the COVID-19 shutdowns, it was assumed that college graduates would be out of work on a massive scale. That’s certainly not the case today.
The labor market for college graduates has grown since February 2020, the last month before the pandemic disrupted the labor market. For those with at least a bachelor’s degree, both the labor force and the number of people employed have grown by 1.7 million, according to the Department of Labor’s latest data.
Furthermore, median weekly earnings for college graduates rose significantly during the height of the pandemic: by 6.2% from the fourth quarter of 2019 to the fourth quarter of 2021. By almost every measure, the labor market for those holding at least a bachelor’s degree is incredibly strong, with the latest unemployment rate down to just 2.0%.
While the rationale for the moratorium no longer exists, the cost to taxpayers keeps mounting. In the unlikely event that the administration actually pulls the plug on Aug. 31, the “pause” will have lasted 28 months, deferring over $218 billion in payments and costing taxpayers more than $5 billion a month in lost interest.
As economic policy goes, the moratorium is not only expensive; it’s patently unfair. On average, it forces low-income taxpayers to subsidize those with higher incomes. The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that college graduates continue to earn considerably more than their less educated counterparts: 45.2% more than the average worker, 57.6% more than those with only some college education or an associate’s degree, and 125.3% more than those who never finished high school.
The greatest economic hardship facing college graduates—and all Americans—today is not the threat of student loan repayment but inflation, which is whittling away everyone’s earnings. This hidden tax has confiscated nearly 8% of Americans’ purchasing power in just the last year. Since Mr. Biden took office, the real value of the average person’s weekly earnings has fallen 4.5%. That is a staggering decline in little more than a year.
Unfortunately, the moratorium on student loan payments is contributing to inflationary pressure.
To be sure, the bulk of the blame lies at the feet of an incompetent Federal Reserve that vastly over-expanded the money supply and either naively or arrogantly thought it wouldn’t awake the inflation beast. But allowing student loan balances to continue forever—while printing presses churn out even more money for new loans—makes the situation worse.
This amounts to a double-whammy on lower-income taxpayers. Not only are they forced to subsidize other people’s college education, but in doing so they wind up exacerbating inflation, a hidden tax which hits the poor the hardest.
Unfortunately, the Biden administration appears to be in thrall to the radical left, which is demanding student loan “forgiveness”—a euphemism that means taxpayers assume student debt balances. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recently claimed that the White House is closer than ever before to unilaterally—and likely unconstitutionally—attempting such a transfer.
When Sept. 1 rolls around, borrowers will very likely expect another extension. Lucy can only pull the football away from Charlie Brown so many times before even he comes to expect it; this latest extension was as predictable as the administration’s captivity to the socialists in the Democrat party.
The never-ending moratorium on student debt payments is the administration’s attempt at squaring the circle: It takes the place of forgiveness, attempting to appease the far left-wing of the party, without incurring the political costs that outright forgiveness would incur. The cost to taxpayers, however, is still accruing.
Ironically, “lunch-bucket Joe” is effectively taxing welders, crane operators and assembly line workers to subsidize people who will likely have higher lifetime earnings, a clear violation of Mr. Biden’s campaign promise of not raising taxes on people earning less than $400,000 annually. Like the previous pledge not to extend the moratorium, it is a case of promises made, promises broken.
This piece originally appeared in The Washington Times