Every issue from immigration to health care was essentially on the ballot this year. When it comes to student loans, the 2018 midterms results signal that the next Congress could be more focused on fixing America's crippling student debt crisis.
Roughly 44 million Americans owe more than $1.3 trillion in outstanding student loan debt, and women hold two-thirds of that debt, per a 2017 report from the American Association of University Women. As a result, crushing debt is forcing many millennials to put off buying a home and starting a family.
Although just one in 10 current members of Congress holds student loan debt by Roll Call's count, Michele Swers, professor of American government at Georgetown University, told Bustle earlier this year that more candidates have been vocal about their own debt on the campaign trail in 2018.
A few of those candidates told Bustle they believe putting more people in Congress who understand the problem on a personal level would make a dramatic difference in what action the government takes to help student loan borrowers, as well as lower the cost of attending a public university. And the number of people elected to Congress on Tuesday who either hold student debt or have been vocal about wanting to fix the problem means there's a chance change could actually happen.
For starters, the influx of millennials headed to Congress in 2019 is a good sign. Because 48 percent of millennials have student debt, compared to 34 percent of Gen Xers and 12 percent of Baby Boomers, young people are more likely to empathize with Americans trying to pay back loans.
The midterms more than doubled the number of millennials in Congress. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a 29-year-old elected to represent New York's 14th District, has advocated for expanding the federal government's student loan forgiveness program. Abby Finkenauer, another 29-year-old woman who won her bid for Congress in Iowa's 1st district, is still paying off $20,000 of student debt. She previously introduced an unsuccessful bill in the Iowa state legislature that would have utilized employer tax credits to help Iowa students refinance their loans.
“At least it was an idea,” she told TIME magazine earlier this month. “It just again shows what differences we will hopefully be able to make once there are different people sitting at the tables making the decisions.”
Like Finkenauer, the Minnesota's 5th District's newly elected congresswoman, 36-year-old Ilhan Omar, also wants to address the student debt crisis in part because she herself has loans to pay back.
"Like many Americans, I am still paying off my student loans while trying to save money to send my high school daughter to college," Omar said in a statement to Bustle before the midterm election. "I hear from my constituents too that they are worried about the cost of college and saddling their children with debt. When I decided to run for Congress, I knew this issue had to be an important part of our progressive agenda."
With more members of Congress understanding firsthand what it means to live with student loan debt hanging over your head, maybe the nation will start to see real solutions.