Category Archives: Debt

New Article: “America Turned the Greatest Vehicle of Social Mobility Into a Debt Machine”

New Article: Tressie McMillan, America Turned the Greatest Vehicle of Social Mobility Into a Debt Machine, N.Y. Times (May 21, 2022). Excerpt below:

If it weren’t for all of the Black women students milling about, Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C., would be the picture of Hollywood’s idea of a small liberal arts college. The red-brick architecture anchors a manicured quad. Wide footpaths crisscross the small but tidy commons.

And then a brick wall announces a boundary not quite breached by the surrounding area’s racial segregation and economic precarity. But it is a half wall, one on which you can sit and stare outside the bubble toward the reality from which students arrive. As metaphors go, it is a strong one: Black colleges like Bennett cannot afford to build a wall so high that the world does not intrude.

New Article: Commodifying Marginalization

New Article: Abbye Atkinson, Commodifying Marginalization, 71 Duke L.J. 773 (2022). Abstract below:

Pillars of U.S. social provision, public pension funds rely significantly on private investment to meet their chronically underfunded promises to America’s workers. Dependent on investment returns, pension funds are increasingly investing in marginalized debt, namely the array of high-interest-rate, subprime, risky debt—including small-dollar installment loans and other forms of subprime debt—that tends to concentrate in and among historically marginalized communities, often to catastrophic effect. Marginalized debt is a valuable investment because its characteristically high interest rates and myriad fees engender higher returns. In turn, higher returns ostensibly mean greater retirement security for ordinary workers who are themselves economically vulnerable in the current atmosphere of public welfare retrenchment. They must increasingly fend for themselves if they hope to retire at a decent age and with dignity, if at all.

This Article surfaces this debt-centered relational connection between two socio-economically vulnerable groups: retirement-insecure workers and marginalized borrowers. It argues that in the hands of private financial intermediaries, whose fiduciary duties and profit-sensitive incentives eschew broader moral considerations of the source of profits or the social consequences of regressive wealth extraction, depends openly on the tenuous socioeconomic condition of one community as a source of wealth accumulation for another vulnerable community. Consequently, it argues that the incursion of private entities into the arena of public welfare is pernicious because it commodifies and reinforces the subordinate socioeconomic conditions on which marginalized debt thrives.

New Jotwell Review: Court Personalities and Impoverished Parents

New Jotwell Review: Ezra Rosser, Court Personalities and Impoverished Parents, Jotwell, Nov. 19, 2021 (reviewing Tonya L. Brito, Producing Justice in Poor People’s Courts: Four Models of State Legal Actors, 24 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 145 (2020))

I hope this review convinces people (a) that Brito’s article is great, and (b) it is worth reading!

Recent LPE Blog Entries of Note

Recent LPE Blog Entries of Note:

New Issue: Wealth Inequality and Child Development: Implications for Policy and Practice

New Issue: Wealth Inequality and Child Development: Implications for Policy and Practice, 7 RSF J. Soc. Sci. (2021). List of Articles Within Below:

New Article: Serial Eviction Filing: Civil Courts, Property Management, and the Threat of Displacement

New Article: Lillian Leung et al., Serial Eviction Filing: Civil Courts, Property Management, and the Threat of Displacement, 100 Social Forces 316 (2021). Abstract Below:

Drawing on over 8 million eviction court records from twenty-eight states, this study shows the role that eviction filings play in extracting monetary sanctions from tenants. In so doing, it documents an unanticipated feature of housing insecurity: serial eviction filings. Serial eviction filings occur when a property manager files to evict the same household repeatedly from the same address. Almost half of all eviction filings in our sample are associated with serial filings. Combining multivariate analysis with in-depth interviews conducted with thirty-three property managers and ten attorneys and court officials, we document the dynamics and consequences of serial eviction filings. When legal environments expedite the eviction process, property managers use the housing court to collect rent and late fees, passing costs on to tenants. Serial eviction filings exacerbate tenants’ housing cost burden and compromise their ability to find future housing. Using tract-level rent and filing fees, we estimate that each eviction filing translates into approximately $180 in fines and fees for the typical renter household, raising their monthly housing cost by 20%. The study challenges existing views of eviction as a discrete event concentrated among poor renters. Rather, it may be better conceived of as a routinized, drawn-out process affecting a broader segment of the rental market and entailing consequences beyond displacement.

New Book: “A War on Global Poverty: The Lost Promise of Redistribution and the Rise of Microcredit”

9780691206332New Book: Joanne Meyerowitz, A War on Global Poverty: The Lost Promise of Redistribution and the Rise of Microcredit (2021). Overview below:

A War on Global Poverty provides a fresh account of US involvement in campaigns to end global poverty in the 1970s and 1980s. From the decline of modernization programs to the rise of microcredit, Joanne Meyerowitz looks beyond familiar histories of development and explains why antipoverty programs increasingly focused on women as the deserving poor.

When the United States joined the war on global poverty, economists, policymakers, and activists asked how to change a world in which millions lived in need. Moved to the left by socialists, social democrats, and religious humanists, they rejected the notion that economic growth would trickle down to the poor, and they proposed programs to redress inequities between and within nations. In an emerging “women in development” movement, they positioned women as economic actors who could help lift families and nations out of destitution. In the more conservative 1980s, the war on global poverty turned decisively toward market-based projects in the private sector. Development experts and antipoverty advocates recast women as entrepreneurs and imagined microcredit—with its tiny loans—as a grassroots solution. Meyerowitz shows that at the very moment when the overextension of credit left poorer nations bankrupt, loans to impoverished women came to replace more ambitious proposals that aimed at redistribution.

Based on a wealth of sources, A War on Global Poverty looks at a critical transformation in antipoverty efforts in the late twentieth century and points to its legacies today.

New Article: Assembly-Line Plaintiffs

New Article: Daniel Wilf-Townsend, Assembly-Line Plaintiffs, forthcoming Harv. L. Rev. Abstract below:

Around the country, state courts are being flooded with the claims of massive repeat filers. These large corporate plaintiffs leverage economies of scale to bring tremendous quantities of low-value claims against largely unrepresented individual defendants. Using recently developed litigation-analytics tools, this article presents the first nationwide study of these “assembly-line plaintiffs,” examining millions of cases across hundreds of jurisdictions. It documents the pervasive nature of this litigation, finding that in many court systems just the top ten private filers account for between one fifth and one third of all civil litigation.

This pattern raises serious concerns. Drawing on existing empirical literature and a sample of 1,000 recent case dockets, the article describes how these cases turn state courts into near-automatic claims processors for large corporations, transferring assets from mostly absent defendants without significant scrutiny of the underlying claims. These defendants, moreover, are often particularly vulnerable low-income consumers or members of other marginalized groups. And although many concerns raised by this litigation overlap with those related to unrepresented litigants more broadly, the structural features of assembly-line litigation—its one-sidedness, high volume, and low claim value—present distinctive challenges. The article concludes by considering a few specific potential reforms designed to meet those challenges: assessing a surcharge on frequent filers as a form of congestion pricing; enabling common defenses to be asserted as affirmative causes of action to facilitate aggregation; and moving courts away from one-case-at-a-time adjudication toward a more investigative, administrative-agency-like model.

New Article: “Philando Castile, State Violence, and School Lunch Debt: A Meditation”

New Article: Abbye Atkinson, Philando Castile, State Violence, and School Lunch Debt: A Meditation, 96 NYU L. Rev. Online 68 (2021). Abstract below:

This essay reflects on Philando Castile and the work he did to support the children who passed through his school cafeteria. By regularly paying off their school lunch debt, Mr. Castile voluntarily assumed a vital caretaking role that the state refused to accept: namely, supporting food-insecure children and education through debt-free lunch. He kept children safe in this regard, even up to the moment that the state violently stole his life on July 6, 2016. Even as his death is a marker of the continuing, racialized excesses of American policing, Mr. Castile’s life in service to hungry schoolchildren reveals the sometime perversity of the public-private American social provision policy that continues to impose the burdens of financial insecurity on individuals least able to bear them.


New Op-Ed: The New Debt Prisons

Gene B. Sperling, The New Debt Prisons, N.Y. Times (Feb. 16, 2021).

Introduction Below:

While controversial calls to “defund the police” have grabbed headlines, we urgently need to examine how we fund the police today. The increasing use of excessive fees, fines, and surcharges to fund parts of our criminal justice system is creating punitive debt traps for millions of low-income Americans leaving prison. Many find themselves in an economic prison: prevented from paying down their debts by the debts themselves. Others are so entrapped that they are actually reincarcerated for unpaid debt. Either way, they are denied the dignity of a real second chance — and a fresh start to pursue one’s purpose and to contribute to family, community and country.