Michigan Bankruptcy Laws/Consumer Bankruptcy Filings in a Complex Economy
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BANKRUPTCY BY THE NUMBERS
CONSUMER FILINGS IN A COMPLEX ECONOMY
Contributing Editors: Gordon Bermant, Burke, Virginia
Ed Flynn, Executive Office for U.S. Trustees
In this month's article we continue our effort to characterize the current status of consumer bankruptcy and the contexts in which it arises.
One of the striking aspects of the bankruptcy landscape is that consumer filings have climbed to new highs while many other features of the economy have shown sustained positive growth. This apparent anomaly is frequently noted in political discussions about consumer bankruptcy reform, including the conclusion that "the bankruptcy crisis is not due to recession, depression, inflation or high unemployment." Moreover, chapter 11 filings have been falling during this time period, lending apparent support to the view that current economic conditions should result in reduced consumer rates as well. Unless, of course, there are serious flaws in the consumer bankruptcy system that present inappropriate temptations to prospective filers. Whether there are such serious flaws is an issue at the core of the debate about proposed legislative changes pending in H.R. 833 and S. 625.
Recent improvements in measures of income are widespread. Thus the Census Bureau reported that 1998 was the fourth year in a row in which real median income increased for U.S. households, arriving in 1998 at a value of $38,885. Between 1997 and 1998, growth occurred in both family households and households comprising unrelated individuals, in households headed by women with no husband in the home, and in households headed by men with no wife in the home.
Other economic good news is also easy to find. The Bureau of Labor Statistics "Economy at a Glance" Report shows the civilian labor force growing from 138.1 million in September 1998 to 139.4 million in September 1999. The unemployment rate fell from 4.5% to 4.2% during the same period, while the Consumer Price Index rose very slightly each month if at all. The "Beige Book," an economic overview published by the Federal Reserve several times during the year, has painted generally positive pictures of the economy in each of its recent reports. And there is the stock market. The Dow Jones Industrial average, the benchmark many people rely on, was at approximately 7500 sometime in September 1998 and is at about 10,600 on this day in early November, 1999; and the Nasdaq Consolidated Index has climbed past 3000, an historic high mark..
How should we think about consumer bankruptcy filings in the face of all this good news about the economy? Perhaps the following observations create a useful perspective:
Economists and others have emphasized the growth of income and wealth disparities within the United States over the past several decades. Relationships between such disparities, their growth, and debtors' propensities to file for bankruptcy have not been documented or developed theoretically. The significance of being near the bottom of the income distribution in America today is in dispute: while some commentators express concern about the great spread in income and wealth, others argue that most households in the bottom twenty percent of the income distribution are pretty well off already, and are unlikely to stay near the bottom of the distribution, no matter how distant they are in material well-being from those in the top twenty percent.
However one interprets the facts about income and
wealth inequalities, the fact remains that chapter 7 petitioners during the past
few years come overwhelmingly from the lower portions of the income
distribution. For example, using the same sample of 845 filers from 1998 that we
have reported on earlier, we found that 80% of the debtors were in the lower
half of the general population income distribution (i.e. below the median), 88%
of the debtors were in the lower 60% of the population distribution, and 98%
were in the lower 80%.
Real insight into the determinants of the decision to file for chapter 7 may require a better understanding of how individuals and families in the lower rungs of a society with increasing spreads of income and wealth come to perceive their positions with respect to their creditors and other groups around them.
Contact me, bankruptcy attorney Walter Metzen to learn more about how I can help you get a Fresh Financial Start!.
Be sure to Obtain a copy of your Credit Report after your Michigan Bankruptcy Filing and check it for Mistakes.
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