Millennials have overtaken the baby boomers as America’s largest boulder, and they and those younger than them will have almost as many voters as all the older generations in the G7 countries by the end of the decade.

But large swathes of young Americans reject the country’s political system. Research by the Center for the Future of Democracy shows that a much lower percentage than the baby boomers, Generation X or, of course, the inter-war generation, are pro-democracy. Perhaps it is because they have so little economic interest in the system. Millennials make up almost 25% of the population, but hold only about 3% of America’s wealth. Baby boomers, who held 21% of the wealth at the same time in their lives, still control the vast majority.

This is one of the main reasons Democrat Joe Biden campaigned for president to write off $ 10,000 in student debt for every federal borrower, a $ 400 billion proposal. Crushing student debt – the average four-year college graduate has $ 30,000 of it – prevents young people from buying houses, cars and other consumer goods. This, in turn, is a major headwind for the economy.

At the end of January, Pandemic student loan relief set to end, and the 43 million Americans who have student loans will have to start repaying them unless additional relief is approved. And so, the idea of ​​a student loan jubilee – that term for massive debt cancellation comes from the Old Testament – is once again in the spotlight. This is a good idea, but only if the debt relief targets those who really need it and is accompanied by a host of other reforms.

the majority of debt is owned by rich, middle-class Americans who spend a lot to send their children to the best universities. The cost of attendance is in itself a sign of the breakdown in the education market: tuition inflation is higher than thrice the consumer price index.

Even the rich find it hard to put aside for their children’s higher education when four years in a prestigious school cost more than $ 200,000. I have a stable, well-paying job and yet had to do significant freelance work alongside for a decade to fully fund my two children’s college savings accounts known as 529 plans.

Getting them through debt-free school has always been a personal goal of mine, as my own parents did it for me with much less money. My mother, a schoolteacher, worked every summer for years to earn extra money, just like me, from the age of 12.

But these are high class issues. The poorest 25 percent of households are much more indebted as a percentage of their income and wealth. These borrowers are more likely to drop out or default, in part because they often don’t get as much of the benefit from their education and also have to juggle part-time work and school, making it more difficult to obtain a degree.

This lower quartile is also disproportionately african american. This raises thorny social issues. Working-class whites without a struggle for a four-year degree, but on average they are more able than their minority peers to cope with a vocational training or a high school diploma. Poor black people know it’s gone – try to go to college, whatever the cost, or risk falling down the economic ladder.

This is one of the reasons I am in favor of means-tested student loan relief. It should be targeted at the bottom quartile of the income scale, for whom it could be life changing. There is a risk that the populist base of the Republican Party will oppose a program that would disproportionately benefit black Americans. But it is not necessarily a question of identity. If we look at it from another angle, there is not only economic and racial justice, but also a disproportionate economic advantage in canceling the debt of the bottom 25%. Research shows that the poor are much more likely to spend money rather than saving it, like wealthier families strength.

Second, debt cancellation must be accompanied by a fundamental understanding that the higher education system is failing. We know the problems. Too many families are going into debt for degrees that do not lead to jobs paying enough to pay back. Many good jobs require vocational or technical training rather than the liberal arts degrees that many students enroll in. We also need a major reset in secondary education, which has not been reformed for half a century.

When Mr Biden takes office, he should forget about a federal community college guarantee that ensures graduates of two-year programs can earn four-year degrees and fix high school instead. Follow the example set by strong “6 of 4” high school programs, such as Bard Early College High School or P-Tech high schools, which combine two years of college credit into a high school diploma. They already have a record of success.

Businesses can help too. Many branded companies are moving towards hiring according to skills rather than referrals, work with nonprofit groups to help find people with persistence, ambition, and ability, if not a four-year degree. Public universities must stop borrowing money to build sophisticated facilities aimed at attracting the world’s elite. Instead, they should focus on providing high quality education for instate students. There is no quick fix to solving the problem of student debt and fixing higher education. But there are a lot of smart ways to solve the problem.

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Letter in response to this column:

Students at less prestigious universities face a spiral of debt / De Graciela Magnoni, Singapore