MADISON, Wis. — With the eyes of the political world turning to Wisconsin, the $1.3 trillion student loan crisis has taken center stage in the race for president. While Democrats have offered student loan refinancing, just like borrowers can with their mortgages or auto loans, Republicans have provided no plan for relief for the nation’s 43 million borrowers, according to One Wisconsin Now, one of the nation’s first and preeminent organizations fighting for student loan reforms.
“Everyone across the political spectrum agrees you should be able to refinancing your student loan, just like you can a mortgage,” said Analiese Eicher, One Wisconsin Now Program Director. “Everyone except the Republican presidential candidates trolling Wisconsin for votes and Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican-controlled state legislature.”
Eicher, who received a national award in 2015 for her tireless work in building the student loan issue into a national movement, said Republicans were ignoring the student loan crisis at their political peril, a claim buoyed by research conducted by One Wisconsin Institute. That first-of-its-kind research showed that Wisconsinites burdened by student loan debt were twice as likely to rent or live with their parents than those without student loans and twice as likely to be unable to purchase a new car. Estimated loss of new car purchasing power directly attributable to student loan debt was $200 million annually in Wisconsin and $6.4 billion nationwide, according to One Wisconsin Institute’s science from a survey of 61,000 Americans with and without student loan debt.
“Student loan debt is a multi-generational crisis, affecting middle class and lower income Americans of all ages, backgrounds, genders and ethnicities,” said Eicher. “Student loan debt doesn’t discriminate — it affects every community in the country.”
The 43 million with student loan debt are among the most powerful potential voting constituencies in the United States, along with the 55 million Americans who receive Social Security and 47 million who receive Medicare. In 2014, 155,000 Americans had their Social Security payments garnished because of student loan debt.
According to the a study by TICAS, a comprehensive 50 state investigation of student loan debt for 2014, seventy percent of Wisconsin’s graduates have student loan debt, the third highest percentage in the nation, and up from tenth in 2011 when Walker was first elected. The average debt load of over $28,800 carried by Wisconsin graduates ranks the state seventeenth nationally. The research also found that over the last decade Wisconsin graduates were saddled with a seventy four percent increase in the amount of debt upon graduation and that ten percent more graduates were leaving school with student debt.
For a second consecutive legislative session, Republicans in control of the Wisconsin State Legislature are adjourning while denying any help for nearly one million state student loan borrowers by refusing to pass a common sense state plan to help them refinance, just like you can with a mortgage. At the federal level, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson has voted several times to kill the student loan refinancing bill authored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Wisconsin’s Sen. Tammy Baldwin that would let 20 million borrowers immediately benefit from lower rates.
“Wisconsin’s student loan borrowers aren’t asking for a handout, or a bailout,” said Eicher. “Student loan borrowers just want to be treated fairly in a system that doesn’t. And right now at the presidential level, only Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are offering anything to Wisconsin’s nearly one million student loan borrowers.”