New Interactive Map Tackles Debt in America Today

Posted January 11, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog newinteractivemaptackles 2018

The Urban Insti­tute has launched an inter­ac­tive map that puts the per­va­sive­ness of America’s mod­ern debt epi­dem­ic on full dis­play. The project, fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, inte­grates cen­sus data with mil­lions of cred­it-bureau records.

The tool’s main take­away? While Amer­i­cans strug­gle with house­hold debt from coast to coast, res­i­dents in the South — espe­cial­ly res­i­dents of col­or — are much more like­ly to have debt in collections.

Vis­it the Debt in Amer­i­ca Inter­ac­tive Map

This find­ing is com­pelling but far from shock­ing. When com­pared to their white coun­ter­parts across the nation, peo­ple of col­or are much more like­ly to be in debt thanks to long­stand­ing inequities, such as high­er-than-aver­age pover­ty rates and unfair lend­ing practices.

When we look at this map, we see a clear con­nec­tion between race, place and finan­cial insta­bil­i­ty,” says Don Bay­lor Jr., a senior asso­ciate at the Casey Foundation.

For exam­ple: The map indi­cates that 16% of white Amer­i­cans and 21% of non­white Amer­i­cans have med­ical debt, which is a major dri­ver of finan­cial insta­bil­i­ty and bank­rupt­cy. Unpaid hos­pi­tal fees are report­ed to the cred­it bureaus and can low­er an individual’s cred­it score. The neg­a­tive finan­cial con­se­quences domi­no from there — affect­ing every­thing from employ­ment prospects to home pur­chas­ing power.

Con­nect­ing these dots — and then scru­ti­niz­ing the con­nec­tions — is impor­tant. By exam­in­ing the amount of debt folks have, what types and who’s car­ry­ing it, we can devel­op solu­tions to reduce these dis­par­i­ties and enable more fam­i­lies to save and build assets,” Bay­lor explains.

In fall 2017, the Casey Foun­da­tion award­ed $580,000 in grants to sev­en part­ner­ships focused on address­ing the debt trap and less­en­ing its impact on com­mu­ni­ties of col­or in the South. This cohort — called the South­ern Part­ner­ship to Reduce Debt — will use the next 12 months to explore ways to tack­le med­ical, court-relat­ed and high-cost con­sumer debt and devel­op strate­gies that sup­port bet­ter finan­cial out­comes for fam­i­lies of color.

One tool that’s sure to come in handy as these efforts advance is the Urban Institute’s inter­ac­tive map. It estab­lish­es a com­mon dash­board for the South­ern Part­ner­ship to Reduce Debt and oth­er coali­tions work­ing to move fam­i­lies toward finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty,” says Bay­lor. We can use this data to devel­op solu­tions with pol­i­cy­mak­ers, com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers and employers—and to check back in on our progress.”

Future install­ments of the map will exam­ine Amer­i­cans’ indebt­ed­ness to the gov­ern­ment, includ­ing pub­lic fees, fines and stu­dent loan debt.

Learn more about Casey’s South­ern Part­ner­ship to Reduce Debt

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