Debt and Financial Security in American Households

Research funded by Ford Foundation

The center examines American indebtedness during 1989-2004 to determine the relationship between debt and economic inequality.

Project Overview

Researchers examined the changing role of debt in the lives of Americans between the late 1980s and the early 2000s. Using data from two years of the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), 1989 and 2004, they considered how the use of debt shifted over the 15-year period, looking in particular for evidence of a differential reliance on debt by households in different income, racial/ethnic, tenure and educational groups.

Their report discusses:

  • Macroeconomic conditions in the two years
  • Americans’ wealth and income
  • Americans’ debt holdings and how the reliance on different instruments shifted over time
  • Specific measures of indebtedness and economic insecurity, including asset-to-debt ratio, debt-to-net worth ratio, debt-to-savings ratio and debt service ratio.
  • What the analysis reveals about three central concerns: the differing ability of individuals to use debt productively or non-productively; whether or not there is evidence of increasing inequality in Americans’ financial security; and how Americans were situated by the mid-2000s to weather the current financial crisis.

The UNC Center for Community Capital conducts research and policy analysis on ways to make financial services work better for more people and communities.


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