Special education teacher Tamika Jackson has been renting a house on the South Side of Chicago for over 10 years.
“I want a house,” said Jackson, “but according to all this, am I going to be able to buy a house.”
She dreams of buying her first home and moving her family to a safer neighborhood.
“I have a 16-year-old that I worry about because it’s gang violence here, they’re recruiting,” Jackson said.
But she’s stuck because of the hundreds of thousands of dollars she owes in student loans.
“I am unable to live and live comfortably,” Jackson said.
Growing up poor, Jackson charted a new path by doing what no one in her family had done before, to pursue a higher education. It was something she was only able to afford by taking out several student loans.
“School was the only thing that saved my life,” she said. “I didn’t have any money. My mom was addicted to drugs.”
Today, she says her loans total more than $500,000.
The 40-year-old mother says several family tragedies and her modest salary as a public school teacher have made it nearly impossible to reach financial stability.
Her financial situation illustrates a troubling truth about student loans in America: They exacerbate racial inequality.
“Student loan debt contributes to the racial wealth gap, largely due to discrimination against blacks, and the wealth gap is enormous,” said Andre Berry, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
The average white family possessed nearly eight times the wealth of the average black family. As a result, black students are more likely to take out student loans and borrow more.
This encapsulates them financially for longer periods of time.
“The reason so many other, as a percentage, of blacks and brownies, have had to take out student loans is because we’ve been denied wealth-building opportunities for most of U.S. history,” Perry said.
For a disproportionate number of black Americans, paying down debt often turns out to be a lifelong struggle.
Twenty years after starting college, the average black borrower still owes 95% of student debt.
Brandeis University researchers say that compares to just 6% for the average white student.
As for Jackson, she is urging lawmakers to cancel as much student debt as possible to free people like her from the stifling financial burden.
This story was originally reported on Newsy.com.