The end of student loan forbearance will be tougher on women

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Before the pandemic, wage disparities already made it tougher for working women to pay off student loans than men. Now, after a second year of juggling increased caregiving duties, over a million women have had to drop out of the workforce as a new/old problem looms: the restart of federal student loan payments.

“Not to paint over individual experiences that could have been good or bad (during the pandemic), but there’s more concern for women that do have college debt and earn less money,” says Kathryn Anne Edwards, an economist at the Rand Corp., a nonprofit global policy think tank.

When the federal student loan payment pause ends after Jan. 31, 2022, repayment will be especially difficult for certain groups of women who saw their earnings plummet, experts say.

STUDENT DEBT WAS ALREADY A GREATER PROBLEM FOR WOMEN

Although women surpass men in degree attainment , women also have more student debt. A 2021 analysis of federal data by the American Association of University Women showed women carry an average student loan burden of $31,276, about 7% more than men.

Once women enter the workplace, they’re less able to pay off that debt due to earnings disparities as a result of gender and — for Black and Hispanic women — racial wage gaps, multiple experts say.

“(Borrowers) accrue this debt, and then a thing like a pandemic appears, exposing issues that are already present,” says Dominique Baker, assistant Professor of Education Policy at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

WOMEN COULD SEE THEIR LIFETIME EARNINGS REDUCED

Say you’re a woman in a partnered relationship with a man. You both work, but he earns more than you. When the pandemic hit, your toddler’s day care closed and your elementary school-age child switched to learning from home. The two of you couldn’t manage to take care of the kids and keep your jobs. Who can you expect to leave their job first?

“We have not made it so people can easily take time off or have more flexible schedules…