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Photo: Sebastian Gollnow/Getty

America's massive student debt problem is slowly getting better, but thousands who took on big loans then never graduated have little chance of escaping the morass.

The big picture: These individuals are at an impasse — many want to graduate so they can qualify for higher-paying jobs and pay down debt, but they can't go back to school until they pay off existing loans.

By the numbers: The Institute for College Access and Success, a non-profit advocacy group, did an analysis of all U.S. undergraduates who started college in 2003 or 2004.

  • 11% of them dropped out with debt
  • 42% of these attended for-profit colleges, and 47% public universities
  • And 23% of them are African-American; that compares with 14% of all American students who are African-American.

Overall, the nationwide student debt burden is beginning to shrink as a proportion of household income, reports Axios' Felix Salmon. And for the first time since the 1980s, tuition inflation is lower than the rise in consumer prices.

  • Some good news: Americans who accrue the most student debt tend to be doctors, lawyers and other professionals — those most likely to be able to pay it off.
  • Yes, but: For those who don't complete college, even relatively small debt, like $5,000, can be insurmountable, says Diane Cheng, a researcher at TICAS.

Go deeper

Justice Department drops insider trading inquiry against Sen. Richard Burr

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) walking through the Senate Subway in the U.S. Capitol in December 2020. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

The Department of Justice told Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) on Tuesday that it will not move forward with insider trading charges against him.

Why it matters: The decision, first reported by the New York Times, effectively ends the DOJ's investigation into the senator's stock sell-off that occurred after multiple lawmakers were briefed about the coronavirus' potential economic toll. Burr subsequently stepped down as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Netflix tops 200 million global subscribers

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Netflix said that it added another 8.5 million global subscribers last quarter, bringing its total number of paid subscribers globally to more than 200 million.

The big picture: Positive fourth-quarter results show Netflix's resiliency, despite increased competition and pandemic-related production headwinds.

Janet Yellen plays down debt, tax hike concerns in confirmation hearing

Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen at an event in December. Photo: Alex Wong via Getty Images

Janet Yellen, Biden's pick to lead the Treasury Department, pushed back against two key concerns from Republican senators at her confirmation hearing on Tuesday: the country's debt and the incoming administration's plans to eventually raise taxes.

Driving the news: Yellen — who's expected to win confirmation — said spending big now will prevent the U.S. from having to dig out of a deeper hole later. She also said the Biden administration's priority right now is coronavirus relief, not raising taxes.