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By Chelsea Coatney
June 13, 2016
Credit : Flickr/Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office.

We all know the statistics — the class of 2016 was the most indebted class ever, just as the class of 2015 was before it, and so on and so forth. States are divesting from higher education and many students are feeling the pressure.

But the pressure isn’t felt evenly. What happens to those making less money after graduation than their classmates? What happens to the parents who are faced with exorbitant child care costs on top of their student debt? This compounding situation is the reality for many female college graduates, who graduate with debt equal to their male counterparts but are often left in the dust after they leave campus.

In 2014, women working full time in the United States typically were paid just 79 percent of what male workers were paid. The gap is even worse for women of color — Hispanic and Latina women were paid a mere 54 percent of what white men were paid in 2014, while African American women made 63 percent of what white men made.

The gender pay gap only gets worse with time — women typically earn around 90 percent of what men make until age 35, when the gap widens, no matter experience, to around 76-81 percent of what men are paid. On top of the systemic wage gap, today’s generation of women are facing decreased annual earnings and stagnant wages due to a stalled economy.

All of this adds up to lowered wealth over an entire career, which can be especially harmful to those working while paying down student debt, supporting a family, and looking for a path to the middle class. Analysis by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) shows that men who graduated in the class of 2008 paid off 44 percent of their student debt between 2009 and 2012, while women from the same graduating class had only paid off 33 percent of their debt. Black and Hispanic women who graduated in 2008 and are now working full-time had paid off less than 10 percent of their debt by 2012.

Additionally, 53 percent of women are putting more money than they should and can reasonably afford toward paying down student loans, compared to just 39 percent of men.

It’s clear that student debt disproportionately affects women. Women are just as educated as men and just as indebted, but struggle to pay back that debt due to a systemic gender pay gap that puts them one step behind before they even begin their careers. And this problem goes deeper than just student loans.

Women who make less money not only have an increased student debt burden, but also have a harder time saving for retirement, investing in a home or car, affording a family and high-quality child care, and much more. Student debt is a women’s issue that must be taken seriously by employers and policymakers alike in order to give all women the opportunity to achieve educational, professional, and economic success.

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