- Americans with student loan debt are underrepresented in federal politics, according to Insider analysis.
- Only 44 members of Congress listed a student loan on their financial disclosure forms.
- Nearly 17% of Americans over the age of 25 owe a student loan, triple the House rate and eight times the Senate rate.
Americans who owe student loans are an underrepresented constituency in federal politics, Insider’s analysis of congressional finances reveals.
While large segments of the working-age population are burdened with student loans, even after controlling for age, their peers in Congress are extremely unburdened.
Insider investigated Congressional finances as part of the Conflicted Congress project which uncovered lawmakers’ numerous violations of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012. In addition to potential conflicts of interest based on what members own , this analysis reveals that Congress can also be influenced by what they should not.
Of the 535 representatives serving in Congress in December, Insider found 44 House members and three senators who listed a student loan on their financial disclosure forms. But many of them came from spouses or were cosigned by their children: Putting those debts aside, only 22 House members and two senators appear to need to take out an individual student loan.
Of all Americans over 25, 16.7% owe a student loan, compared to just 5.1% in the House and 2% in the Senate.
Granted, Congress’ advanced age and dramatic wealth â the 15 richest members together had an estimated net worth of at least $1.3 billion â versus the population as a whole has something to do with this bias, but even adjusting by age reveals that disproportionately your typical congressman may not sympathize with your typical student loan payer.
Underrepresented in Congress
This means that just under a third of this age group has student debt. The only senator in that age bracket, Senator Jon Ossoff, does not have a student loan. Of the nine members of the House of Representatives between the ages of 25 and 34, only two â Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Mondaire Jones â still have a student loan on their books, just over a fifth of the 25 at 34 years of the Chamber.
Of the 62 million Americans between the ages of 35 and 49, 14.3 million owe a student loan, or 23% of the cohort. Of the nine senators in that age bracket, 22% owe an individual student loan, roughly equal. But in the House, only 14 of 97 MPs between the ages of 35 and 49 owe student loans, just 14% of the cohort.
In total, of the 116 members of Congress between the ages of 25 and 49, only 18 owe a personal student loan, or 15.5% in total. Among Americans between the ages of 25 and 49, more than a quarter owe a student loan, more than double the Congressional rate for their age group.
Legislators who must are rare
“We in a representative democracy want the people who represent us to be on top of the daily struggles that people have,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of the few members of Congress with student loan debt. “Obviously if you elect more people who have the struggles of everyday people, they intend to fight for it.”
And while Congress may be richer than your typical American, that doesn’t mean other debtors aren’t represented.
For example, 286 members of the House of Representatives – about two-thirds – have mortgages, as do 75 senators, or about three-quarters of the Senate. This exceeds the national rate: from 65% of Americans who own a homeonly 62% are still paying a mortgagewhich means that only about four in ten adults are paying a mortgage.
This is well below the rate seen in Congress, which was quick to implement policies that favor landlords over tenants.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York, who said he had student loan debt in his financial disclosure and is a strong supporter to cancel federal student loans, echoed Omar and said having his own student loans helps inform his decision-making on the matter.
“I was the first in my family to go to college. I didn’t understand the cost of college at all,” Bowman told Insider. He said first-generation students often fall prey to lenders and it’s “good economics” to write off student loan debt during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, one of two senators still brooding over student debt, told Insider he’s not worried about people like him, who have no challenges repaying their loans.
“I worry about people who have student loan debt and don’t have an income that meets that burden, so I don’t know if my personal circumstances inform me or really inform me because I’m in a pretty good situation compared to more.”
Biden’s stance on student loan forgiveness has fluctuated
In March 2020, President Joe Biden pledged to “forgive a minimum of $10,000/person of federal student loans”, echoing calls from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders and other presidential candidates at the time.
Then, in a speech in November 2020, Biden said that forgiving $10,000 “should be done immediately”. However, upon taking office, Biden did no such thing, instead extending the student loan payment pause and expanding its reach.
In February 2021, Biden reiterated during a CNN town hall that he was “ready to cancel the $10,000 debt, but not the $50 debt [thousand] because I don’t think I have the authority to do so.” He then asked the Departments of Justice and Education in April 2021 to draft a memo outlining his legal authority to cancel $50,000 in student loans per individual, but never published its contents.
But in December 2021, the Biden administration had a different tone regarding the cancellation of student loans. Asked by a reporter about Biden’s campaign promise, White House press secretary Jen Psaki blamed it on a stalled Congress.
“If Congress sends him a bill, he’s happy to sign it. They haven’t sent him a bill on that yet,” Psaki said.