Low- and moderate-income families in the United States are burdened by debt, from mortgages, credit cards, and student loans, to installment, payday, pawnshop and loans from friends and family, to arrears on obligations such as rent, utilities, taxes, legal-financial obligations, child support, and bank fees. One third of Americans have an account in collections; unpaid bills account for over one-third of delinquent debt. We know too little about the various types of debt burdening families, how that debt intersects with other forms of disadvantage and economic insecurity, and how local policies and practices create and perpetuate that debt.

The New Haven Debt Map project seeks to understand more about the types of debt carried by low to moderate-income families in New Haven, how that debt impacts their well-being, and what municipal, state, and federal policies need to change or be enacted to relieve the debt burden. In this talk, researchers presented initial results from a survey conducted during the summer of 2020 with 403 low- to moderate-income New Haven residents. They also outlined next steps for the project, including a qualitative component to explore in greater depth both causes and impact of debt, and an ongoing plan for disseminating the findings locally, including a website, community conversations, and a series of policy briefs.

This event was held virtually over Zoom.

Speakers: Annie Harper is a cultural anthropologist working with the Program for Recovery and Community Health in the Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry, where she studies the intersections between poverty, financial services and mental health. Her research is locally rooted and community informed, with the goal of contributing directly to local and state level systems change.

Tommaso Bardelli is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the New York University’s Prison Education Program, where he coordinates the Debt & Incarceration project, exploring the financial costs of the carceral state for marginalized communities in New York City. Before joining NYU, Tommaso completed a Ph.D. in Political Science at Yale University and conducted ethnographic fieldwork with people involved with the criminal justice system in New Haven.

Latrice Allen-Frasier is a Certified Financial Coach working with the City of New Haven and our Partnering agency CAHS, where she provides financial strategy to increase the financial stability of residents of New Haven. Her counseling assists families to pay down debt, increase credit scores and create savings with the goal of creating financial independence within the community.

Moderated by Vesla Weaver, Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor of Political Science and Sociology at Johns Hopkins University.

This research is funded by a grant from Johns Hopkins’ 21st Century Cities Initiative’s Spring 2019 Applied Research Seed Grant Program.

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