Sunday, July 09, 2006
Middle Class Families Most Likely To Go Bankrupt
Hard working middle class families with children are the group most likely to declare bankruptcy in Bush's America. There were over 1.6 million bankruptcies declared in the last fiscal year. This represents an increase of 7.4 percent over the previous year, and a whopping 400 percent increase over the last quarter century. It exceeds the number of people who, in a given year, will be divorced, have a heart attack or be diagnosed with cancer. Disgracefully, in a nation that famously honors motherhood, working mothers - whether single, divorced or married - will be hit disproportionately by the trauma of bankruptcy, and the number among this group has gone up 662 percent in the last twenty years. Ninety percent of all those who face this calamity will fall squarely in the ranks of the middle class. A new book by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Tyagi entitled The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers And Fathers Are Going Broke describes the causes of bankruptcy among the middle class, and addresses the problem of solving it.
According to Warren and Tyagi, a major root cause of bankruptcy is the decline in the quality of public education in the United States, which in turn has wildly inflated the price of homes in those few communities that still have good school systems. Add to this the fact that many middle class couples come into a marriage with unpaid college loans and significant levels of credit card debt, and you have a scenario where both husband and wife must be employed just to keep even. This is analogous to an airplane that can fly only if all four engines are running full throttle. If just one engine fails, the plane crashes. Likewise, when either partner loses his or her job, that 100 percent economic participation required to survive on a day to day basis has been halved, or worse, and there is nothing in reserve to keep the family afloat. Many middle class families are living so close to the edge - not to provide themselves with trendy luxuries, as some might suppose - but just to pay for the basic necessities, that they have little in savings, barely enough in most cases to stake them for more than a few months. The most obvious solution is to "live within one's means" - but when costs soar as real wages plummet, that goal is increasingly beyond the reach of all but the richest Americans. The rest of us are transformed into "spendthrifts" against our will.
The authors of The Two-Income Trap warn that as many as 6 million American households with children - fully 1 in 7 of such households in the United States - may declare bankruptcy by end of the decade. At the same time, our present administration, which claims to "leave no child behind", has enacted Draconian restrictions that will prevent many American families from even saving their homes through our bankruptcy laws and will therefore allow them to be bled even drier in the future.
The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke by Elizabeth Warren, Amelia Warren Tyagi at Amazon.com
"Professor Warren And The 'Two-Income Trap'" at Harvard Law School web site
"Why Middle Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke" from MSNBC
"Two incomes, more debt?" from the Christian Science Monitor
"Middle class barely treads water" from USA Today
"Middle Class and Maxed Out " from BusinessWeek