May 28, 2019
I published the first edition of Got Debt, Dispatches From the Front Lines of America’s Debt Crisis in October, 2017. At the time the economy wasn’t treading water, wasn’t booming. It was just, or so it seemed to me, moving along in a hopeful direction while I was still cleaning up the detritus left from the Recession.
The economy eventually did take off – at least according to the media in all its forms. Unemployment dropped like a rock, the stock market soared, economic indicators indicated “great things,” everybody was working, houses were selling – although nowhere near the rate of the early 2000s, but we all know how that worked out so lower growth there was just fine.
Through all this good news I noticed a few things. For one, I was as busy as ever with foreclosure and debt cases and they weren’t leftovers from 2008, they were new. The economy may have been zipping along but homes were still going into foreclosure, credit cards were being maxed out, late payments piled up as before, banks were issuing default notices, and collection firms, lean and mean after consolidation and some house-cleaning during the Recession, were enjoying a golden age.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a lawyer who deals in consumer debt every day to realize that wages – the regular working wage of the regular middle-class worker – hadn’t changed at all. At least not in comparison with inflation.
The dollar is not going as far as it did and that’s a trend that doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon, despite constant promises from politicians.
People continue to supplement lagging incomes with credit. Still. They’re just doing it today a little more quietly than during and immediately after the Recession. Debt back then was front page news, now it’s stuck – when it’s mentioned at all – back in the “Consumer Help Team” section.
Debt is still there, the crisis is still there, the coverage is not and as the coverage goes, so goes the awareness.
Not too long ago, I read a review of a terrific movie, Hell or High Water, a movie very much about foreclosure. It was shot on location in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico. The cinematography is brilliant – as noted in the review.
The reviewer loved the movie, loved the performances, loved everything but had this criticism (I’m paraphrasing): “They really overdid it with the boarded up buildings, empty houses with foreclosure signs, billboards for pawn shops and companies that buy distressed homes.”
I’ve been to conferences in Texas – Florida as well – and I can personally attest that the filmmakers didn’t overdo anything, they simply shot what was there on the side of roads not interstates.
The review simply wants us to believe what is not supported by fact – the Recession is over and that foreclosures and crushing debt are fading away with it.
Debt is still everywhere and it affects almost everyone in one way or another. Pretending it’s not is not only irresponsible, it is setting the stage for another recession and new generations afflicted to be by it. I share here the story of the law firm that used to foreclose on medical debt, and when that became public and the firm fired by the hospital after the shameful news broke, how it moved on to focus on collection of old credit card debt- a more “under the radar” type of work as there is less general sympathy for the person who couldn’t pay a credit card than someone who couldn’t pay a medical bill. So has gone the story of crushing debt—we have become desensitized to it, and so overwhelmed by our own situations we have no empathy left for others. It has become old news, it’s that simple.
Hence this new edition.