Military recruiters often target low-income youth. Will Biden’s student loan relief plan mean vulnerable youth no longer have to choose between debt and military service?
September 28, 2022 / Frances Nguyen / Next City - Earlier this month, 19 House Republicans, led by Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas), sent a letter to President Biden to raise concerns over the “unintended consequences” that his student loan relief plan would have on the military’s recruitment efforts: “By forgiving such a wide swath of loan borrowers,” the letter read, “you are removing any leverage the Department of Defense maintained as one of the fastest and easiest ways to pay for higher education.”
The plan would forgive up to $10,000 for borrowers of federal student loans who make less than $125,000 per year, and up to $20,000 for recipients of Pell Grants, a financial award for students from families with incomes below $60,000 annually. Under the plan, about 20 million borrowers could have their balances eliminated.
Indeed, one of the many reasons young recruits join the U.S. Armed Forces is to finance their education, particularly among low-income and recruits of color. A 2015 survey from the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University found that 53% of veterans were motivated into military service for educational benefits. The relief plan would undoubtedly impact that side of the sales pitch for military recruitment, but how deeply will it undermine recruiting efforts – and is the crisis of recruitment actually a crisis?
Several counter-recruiters say it’s too soon to know the impact of Biden’s student debt relief plan on their work, in part because they anticipate legal challenges blocking the relief and because the plan doesn’t impact new or future borrowers. But ultimately, they say, the success of recruitment depends on another factor.
“The single biggest predictor of military recruitment is the economy,” Elizabeth Frank, who has been involved in counter-recruitment in Chicago public schools since 2004, says, pointing to what student debt cancellation advocates argue will ultimately be a boost to the economy.
“When the economy is good, recruitment suffers,” says Frank.