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In S.C., Warren Pitches Student Loan Debt Plan As Way To Reduce Racial Wealth Gap04:48
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Democratic presidential contender and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks about the student loan debt relief bill she's sponsoring on Wednesday at South Carolina State University. (Meg Kinnard/AP)
Democratic presidential contender and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks about the student loan debt relief bill she's sponsoring on Wednesday at South Carolina State University. (Meg Kinnard/AP)

Calling student loan debt a growing crisis threatening the overall economy, Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is again pushing a proposal to dramatically reduce it. That was the focus of a town hall meeting at South Carolina State University on Wednesday night.

Earlier this year, the Democratic presidential candidate introduced legislation that would eliminate up to $50,000 in student loan debt for tens of millions of Americans.

"What we're starting to see now is young people are not buying homes at the rate we would expect them to," Warren said. "That holds back our entire economy. They're not buying cars, they're not moving out of their parents' home. And here's one: They're not starting new businesses. And why? Because they have to make that student loan monthly payment."

Warren chose a historically black university in a state where the African American vote is crucial for Democrats, appearing at the event with South Carolina's most influential Democrat, House Majority Whip James Clyburn, who is sponsoring legislation in the House similar to Warren's Senate bill.

Warren says total student loan debt is approaching $1.5 trillion, threatening the overall economy, and hitting students of color particularly hard.

"So we're not only crushing an entire generation under the weight of student loan debt; we are disproportionately crushing a generation of students of color," she told the crowd. "That is not how a country builds a future, and we gotta change that."

Warren says her bill is one of the ways she would reduce the racial wealth gap.

Recent polls suggest that Warren is edging ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden as the Democratic front-runner nationally and in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire. But Biden continues to hold a big advantage in South Carolina, thanks to deep support among African American voters.

At a community event in Columbia, S.C., the night before Warren's appearance at the university, the Rev. Patricia Jones said she backs Biden but now she's hearing about Warren — and she's "torn."

"Only because Elizabeth Warren is saying what I need to hear: student loan debt forgiveness," Jones said. "That's where I am right now — with my own student loans. My daughter is in college now. We don't want generational debt. So that is a big selling point for me."

The town hall at South Carolina State Wednesday night illustrated Warren's challenge in the Palmetto State. Though many welcome her message, they aren't ready to support her — at least not yet.

"I'll definitely go do some research on her and see what her stance is on certain issues and if she's really the right fit for the job that's ahead," said Seth Harling, a student at the college. "Right now, it's leaning more toward Joe Biden, just because he was once in that position so he knows what has to be done, the power that comes with that position."

But there are still many months to go before the South Carolina primary, so this race is far from over.

This segment aired on October 10, 2019.

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Anthony Brooks Twitter Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.

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