The Sanders Institute Talks: Student Loan Debt
Dr. Jane O’Meara Sanders sits down with Sanders Institute Founding Fellow and economist Dr. Stephanie Kelton to talk about Dr. Kelton’s new report on the macroeconomic effects of student loan debt cancellation in the United States.
More than 44 million Americans are caught in a student debt trap. Collectively, they owe nearly $1.4 trillion on outstanding student loan debt. Research shows that this level of debt hurts the US economy in a variety of ways, holding back everything from small business formation to new home buying, and even marriage and reproduction. It is a problem that policymakers have attempted to mitigate with programs that offer refinancing or partial debt cancellation. But what if something far more ambitious were tried? What if the population were freed from making any future payments on the current stock of outstanding student loan debt? Could it be done, and if so, how? What would it mean for the US economy?
This report seeks to answer those very questions and several important implications emerge from this analysis.
A one-time policy of student debt cancellation, in which the federal government cancels the loans it holds directly and takes over the financing of privately owned loans on behalf of borrowers, results in the following macroeconomic effects (all dollar values are in real, inflation-adjusted terms, using 2016 as the base year):
The policy of debt cancellation could boost real GDP by an average of $86 billion to $108 billion per year. Over the 10-year forecast, the policy generates between $861 billion and $1,083 billion in real GDP (2016 dollars).
Eliminating student debt reduces the average unemployment rate by 0.22 to 0.36 percentage points over the 10-year forecast.
Peak job creation in the first few years following the elimination of student loan debt adds roughly 1.2 million to 1.5 million new jobs per year.
The inflationary effects of cancelling the debt are macroeconomically insignificant. In the Fair model simulations, additional inflation peaks at about 0.3 percentage points and turns negative in later years. In the Moody’s model, the effect is even smaller, with the pickup in inflation peaking at a trivial 0.09 percentage points.
Nominal interest rates rise modestly. In the early years, the Federal Reserve raises target rates 0.3 to 0.5 percentage points; in later years, the increase falls to just 0.2 percentage points. The effect on nominal longer-term interest rates peaks at 0.25 to 0.5 percentage points and declines thereafter, settling at 0.21 to 0.35 percentage points.
The net budgetary effect for the federal government is modest, with a likely increase in the deficit-to-GDP ratio of 0.65 to 0.75 percentage points per year. Depending on the federal government’s budget position overall, the deficit ratio could rise more modestly, ranging between 0.59 and 0.61 percentage points. However, given that the costs of funding the Department of Education’s student loans have already been incurred (discussed in detail in Section 2), the more relevant estimates for the impacts on the government’s budget position relative to current levels are an annual increase in the deficit ratio of between 0.29 and 0.37 percentage points. (This is explained in further detail in Appendix B.)
State budget deficits as a percentage of GDP improve by about 0.11 percentage points during the entire simulation period.
Research suggests many other positive spillover effects that are not accounted for in these simulations, including increases in small business formation, degree attainment, and household formation, as well as improved access to credit and reduced household vulnerability to business cycle downturns. Thus, our results provide a conservative estimate of the macro effects of student debt liberation.
To read the full report click here.