Senator Warren misquotes IASP study in Democratic debate

January 10, 2020

During the fifth Democratic Presidential Debate held on Nov. 20, Senator Elizabeth Warren misquoted a study from the Institute of Assets and Social Policy (IASP) in the Heller School at Brandeis regarding the statistics on the amount of debt needed to be paid back by minority groups, according to an article by Politifact. Although Warren’s statement presents the same idea as the study—that minority groups are put at a disadvantage when paying off their student loans—her statement does not match the information in the study. 

The IASP released a study in Sept. 2019 called “Stalling Dreams: How Student Debt is Disrupting Life Chances and Widening the Racial Wealth Gap.” The study was led by Tom Shapiro (HS), who worked with his colleagues and co-authors for about nine months to put the study together, Shapiro wrote in an email to The Brandeis Hoot. The study discusses the racial disparities regarding the accumulation of student loan debt and the ability to pay it off. The study shows that minority groups have greater difficulty paying off their student debt than “white borrowers.”

The study states, “Twenty years after starting college, the median debt of white borrowing students has been reduced by 94%—with almost half holding no student debt—whereas black borrowers at the median still owe 95% of their cumulative borrowing total.”

Warren quoted this portion of the study during the democratic debate incorrectly. Warren said, “Today in America—a new study came out—20 years out, whites who borrowed money, 94 percent of them have paid off their student loan debt; five percent of African Americans have paid it off.” 

The error made by Warren was in reference to what the statistics of the study are representing. The statistics from IASP are referring to the amount borrowed, whereas Warren made the statistics represent the percentage of borrowers. 

The first error Warren made suggests that 94 percent of white borrowers have paid off their student debt within 20 years of graduating, however, the study’s statistics say that the median debt had been decreased by 94 percent. The second error Warren made was that five percent of African American borrowers had paid off their debt in the same time frame, however, the study says in that time frame only five percent of debt had decreased for African Americans. 

The United States has fallen into a crisis with student loan debts; the amount of debt accumulated has reached nearly $1.5 trillion, according to a study released in August 2019 by the Federal Bank Reserve of New York. In the study released by IASP, statistics show that student loans are the highest form of non-housing debt in the U.S., which means student debt has surpassed the debt accumulated by credit cards and auto loans, according to the study. The increase of student loan debt, according to the study, comes concomitantly with the price of higher education increasing. 

As a Senator, Warren attempted to combat the student loan debt crisis in July 2019 through a bill proposal which would cancel debt for 95 percent of borrowers, according to the plan. With this legislation, it is predicted that 45 million Americans with student loan debt will see a decrease in that amount. 

In an email to The Hoot, Shapiro wrote that the main idea of the study is to highlight the relationship between race and student debt. Although Warren did misquote the study, she is “on mark about the issue,” said Shapiro. Warren’s policy position is in line with the message of the study, Shapiro said, and the issue of the study is being overlooked by “trivial issues.”  

Editor’s note: News Editor Rachel Saal has contributed to Warren’s campaign and did not contribute to this article.

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