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Double Check: Are Student Loans Crushing Joe Biden's Family?

Double Check: Are Student Loans Crushing Joe Biden's Family?

On February 16, President Joe Biden appeared on a CNN Town Hall hosted by Anderson Cooper. During the Town Hall, Biden answered questions posed by some members of the audience on various topics, including COVID-19, unemployment, and student loans. 

Joycelyn Fish, a member of the audience, started by saying, “Student loans are crushing my family, friends, and fellow Americans.” Before she could say anything further, Biden's response was, “Me too.” Fish laughs and goes on with her question, but Biden interjects again, asking “You think I’m kidding?” Clearly, Biden was very keen to give the impression here that student loans are indeed a problem for his family. So I decided to do what I do best, and fact checked the president.

We looked into Biden’s children and grandchildren (who have gone to college) to see what their likely tuition costs were, and compare them to the family’s declared income to see whether those costs were likely to have been accrued as debt. Biden’s current net worth is about $9 million, and he has been in politics since 1972. 

Before we begin, let me give you a brief background on Biden’s childhood. Biden’s father, Joe Sr. grew up in a wealthy household; Joe Sr’s father, Joseph, ran a division of American Oil. According to an article in Forbes, Biden’s father failed to keep many businesses afloat, leaving the family “broke” according to Joe Biden’s 2007 memoir, Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics. His father eventually got work as a car salesman.

In 1965, Biden graduated from the University of Delaware, where he double majored in Political Science and History. Based on data published by the National Center for Education Statistics, Biden must have spent somewhere between $500-$550 per annum. He then went to the University of Syracuse, where he received a juris doctor from the College of Law in 1968. 

Biden has been married twice; in 1966, Biden married Neilia Hunter, and they had three children, Joseph R. “Beau” Biden III, Robert Hunter Biden, and Naomi Christina “Amy” Biden. Biden’s first wife and daughter Naomi were killed in a tragic car accident in 1972. He later married First Lady Jill Biden in 1977 and had one child, Ashley Blazer, with her. So Biden has likely been responsible for the tuition of his three children, and possibly two grandchildren so far too. I am now going to break down how much each of Biden’s children spent on college tuition and compare it to his personal wealth to sketch out the impact it’s likely had on the Biden family.

[All figures mentioned henceforth are an approximation of what was the cost of college tuition. They are not adjusted for inflation.

Biden’s oldest son, Beau, graduated from University of Pennsylvania in 1991. Based on information given on the university’s website, his tuition for four years would have cost approximately $48,619 ($10,968 + $11,678 + $12,553 + $13,420 = $48,619). He then went to Syracuse University College of Law and graduated in 1994. Based on information about the cost of law school in the early 1990s, we calculated Beau’s tuition might have cost approximately $41,296 ($12,738 + $13,730 + $14,828 = $41,296). So in total, Biden probably spent approximately $89,915 on Beau’s education. 

Biden’s second son, Hunter, graduated from Georgetown University in 1992 and based on information available on CollegeCalc, his tuition for four years was approximately $50,981 ($14,569 + $13,366 + $11,998 + $11,048 = $50,981). He subsequently did one year of law school at Georgetown University Law Center, 1992, where his one year tuition was approximately $13,730. He transferred to Yale Law School in his second year and spent three years there, which cost approximately $62,200 ($19,780 + $20,760 + $21,660 = $62,200). In total, Biden spent $126,911 on Hunter’s education. 

Biden’s daughter Ashley graduated from Tulane University in 2002 and in her four years’ there, Biden spent approximately $99,794 ($26,886 + $25,390 + $24,214 + $23,304= $99,794). Biden’s wife Jill went to West Chester State College (1979-81) where Biden spent an average of $2,330 per annum and then to Villanova University (1985-87) where Biden spent an average of $8,990 per annum. 

So between 1979 to 2002, Biden’s family must have spent $339,260 on tuition fees. In the same years, Biden was a U.S. senator and earned exactly $2,367,601 before taxes. Therefore, even after paying all college tuition, Biden still had a surplus of $2,028,341 before taxes. Although this is just the salary Biden earned as a senator, according to Forbes, Biden had a teaching gig at Widener University on the side, which generated roughly $20,000 annually. Moreover, Jill earned about $60,000 a year from the State of Delaware, where she taught from about 1998-2008. 

To put things into perspective, between 1990-2000, the median household income in the United States was between $50,000-$60,000. Biden, from just being a senator, was earning twice to four times as much. Furthermore, according to an article published in 2013 in the Washington Post, “In 1989, the median American household made $51,681 in current dollars (the 2012 number, again, was $51,017). That means that 24 years ago, a middle-class American family was making more than a middle-class family was making one year ago.” And it’s safe to assume that things are worse in 2021 because of the adverse effect on economic growth due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Now, let’s look at his grandchildren. Biden has a total of seven grandkids; Hunter has five kids and his late son Beau has two. Out of all of them, Naomi Biden, Hunter’s daughter, has finished university and Finnegan Biden is currently a junior at University of Pennsylvania. Naomi graduated from University of Pennsylvania in 2016 and her tuition was around $165,696 ( $39,088 + $40,594 + $42,176 + $43,838 = $165,696). She subsequently went to Columbia Law School and graduated in 2020. Her tuition fee there was approximately $207,376 ($67,564 + $69,916 + $69,896 = $207,376). In total, she spent $373,072 on her education. Her younger sister, Finnegan Biden is currently a junior at University of Pennsylvania. So far she has spent $151,738 ($47,416 + $51,156 + $53,166 =  $151,738).

This means Hunter’s daughters have so far spent $359,114 on their education. Despite enormous speculation around Hunter Biden’s business dealings during the presidential election, there is no reliable information available on Hunter Biden’s net worth, and we also don’t know whether he or his former spouse paid for their children’s tuition, whether Joe and Jill Biden contributed, or whether Hunter’s daughters took out student loans. However, Joe and Jill Biden earned $16.7 million between 2017 and 2019 from book royalties and paid speaking engagements, according to Forbes. In total, they earned $22.5 million between 1998 and 2019. It is clear that, taking the Biden family as a single economic unit, the cost of the Biden granddaughter’s tuition would have been bearable.

According to an article in Forbes, per the most recent available statistics, there are 45 million borrowers in the U.S. who collectively owe close to $1.6 trillion in student loan debt. The article further states that, “The average student loan debt for members of the Class of 2018 is $29,200, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.” There are currently 8.2 million borrowers under the age of 24 with a student loan debt of $121.9 billion; the numbers are shockingly high. If the average graduate salary is $45,000  as laid out by Statista, a tax burden of 24 percent reduces that to $34,200, leaving a take-home salary of around $2,850 per month, the average monthly student loan payment would account for $400 per month of that remaining figure. The averages don’t tell the whole story either: Forbes’ statistics show that over three million student loan borrowers hold total student loan debts greater than $100,000, “with approximately 800,000 of that total holding student loan debt greater than $200,000.”

So based on the evidence cited above, I think it’s safe to say that Biden’s family has not been “crushed” by student loans, and it’s doubtful as to whether his family even needed to apply for student loans. Biden and Jill were making enough money to support their kids’ education while also living comfortably. We can’t rule out the possibility that Biden had other expenses (mortgage, household, automobile) but saying his family is being “crushed” as many ordinary American households are, seems like a bit of stretch, doesn’t it?

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