The Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a research organization focused on studying economic inequality, has released a new interactive map that displays student debt across the country, and its findings might not be what you'd expect. According to Mapping Student Debt, those living in zip codes with the highest median incomes, like Tribeca and the Upper East Side, tend to have the highest loan balances—but they also have the lowest rate of default, or delinquency. Conversely, people who tend to default on their loans live in low-income zip codes, where the amount of the loans is also on the lower side.
Here's how that economic inequality pans out in New York City: According to the data provided through the Department of Education, 10069, which covers a small section of the Upper West Side, has one of the highest median incomes in the city at $170,630. It also has an extremely high loan balance amount, and the rate of default is minimal, according to the map. But in a relatively low-income zip code area like 10454, which covers Port Morris in the Bronx, the median income is just over $20,000 and the loan balance is on the lower side, but the default rate is high.
Several factors contribute to this inequality. Residents of wealthier neighborhoods tend to have multiple degrees, and students who have gone to graduate schools have higher loans but also better-paying jobs that allow them to pay off their loans in a timely fashion. In low-income neighborhoods, the lack of access to high-quality education can lead to lower paying jobs, and it becomes difficult for people to pay off even smaller loan amounts. Research conducted by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth also shows that low-income residents are unfairly burdened because they do not have access to take out bigger loans based on their income levels and as a result aren't always able to pursue higher education.
To create the map, researchers at the Washington Center primarily looked at credit reporting data on student debt released by Experian and income data from the American Community Survey. Researchers do not provide loan amounts in dollars because there are some limitations on the data sets they've used; for example Experian doesn't take into account that some of the poorest household may not have a credit history.
At present there are more than 42 million Americans who owe student debt totaling $1.1 trillion.
· Mapping Student Debt [WCEG]
· An introduction to the geography of student debt [WCEG]
· Why Students With Smallest Debts Have the Larger Problem [NY Times]
· College Scorecard Date [US Dept. of Education]