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Generations of Struggle

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Debt has become the common denominator of American life: in 2007, more than a million people filed for bankruptcy. In this paper, researchers Deborah Thorne of Ohio University, Elizabeth Warren of Harvard Law School, and Teresa A. Sullivan of the University of Michigan analyze data from the 1991, 2001, and 2007 Consumer Bankruptcy Project surveys. Their findings reveal grim news for older adults. The rate of bankruptcy filings among those ages 65 and older has more than doubled since 1991, and the average age for filing bankruptcy has increased. Other important findings are:

  • Americans age 55 or older have experienced the sharpest increase in bankruptcy filings.
  • Americans age 34 or younger have experienced the greatest decrease in bankruptcy filings.
  • The influence of Baby Boomers on bankruptcy filings has moderated substantially.

This paper is the first report from the 2007 Consumer Bankruptcy Project, which surveyed 2,435 adults of all ages who filed for bankruptcy in early 2007. Subsequent reports will investigate the link between bankruptcy and health, and other potential factors. (16 pages)

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