The phrase “student loan debt” no doubt evokes anxiety in most college students. However, this worry is more potent for some groups than others. A report by Student Loan Hero found that 60 percent of LGBTQ+ student loan borrowers regret taking on debt, compared with 45 percent of student loan borrowers in the general population.
The research sampled over 11,000 LGBTQ+ adults nationally. It reveals how discrimination affects the financial situation of LGBTQ+ people.
And what exactly is this situation? LGBTQ+ borrowers are more likely than the general population to make less than $50,000 a year. This discrepancy exacerbates struggles with debt: Student Loan Hero found that on average, LGBTQ+ respondents have $112,607 in student loan debt, about $16,000 more than the general population average of $96,211.
According to John Schneider, a nationally recognized LGBTQ+ personal finance expert, there may be a couple of reasons for the lower wages in the LGBTQ+ community.
“Two reasons could be systemic and inherent biases, as highlighted by [a study out of the University Surrey] that shows that people who sound or appear LGBTQ+ are less likely to be hired, are paid less and aren’t promoted,” explains Schneider. “Another could be an adversity to risk within the queer community leading to fewer examples of successful LGBT people relative to the general population. Lastly, it could be that a large percentage of the queer community are also members of other communities that tend to skew lower on the income scale.”
As Schneider points out, LGBTQ+ employees walk on more precarious ground than do their peers. According to Out & Equal, a nonprofit organization that advocates for LGBTQ+ equality, one in four LGBTQ+ workers have experienced employment discrimination in the past five years, and nearly one in ten have left a job due to an unwelcoming environment. In many cases, this marginalization is completely legal. In 28 states you can be fired on the basis of your sexual orientation and in 30 states for your gender identity. Workplace discrimination can range from denial of employment to exclusion from networking events that take place outside of work.
The financial challenges often start at home. Only 39 percent of Student Loan Hero’s respondents reported feeling “entirely accepted” by their families and 33 percent reported being kicked out of home at some point. In fact, according to Voices of Youth Count, LGBTQ+ youth are 120 percent more likely than their peers to become homeless.
There are financial disparities within the LGBTQ+ community as well. Schneider points out that “Heterosexual males indicate the highest incomes, followed by gay men, heterosexual women and then lesbian women. Trans people suffer the worst. In fact, trans people are four times more likely to live on incomes below $10,000 a year.” In addition, transgender people experience unemployment at a rate three times the national average.
So what can be done? Unfortunately, as you may have guessed, the obstacles continue. 31 percent of respondents to the Student Loan Hero survey report being denied financial help due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Scholarships designed for LGBTQ+ students can offer significant help, but for now the financial disparities persist.