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Who are the Debt Poor?

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Our previous research argued that interest payments on consumer debt should be subtracted from household income to measure poverty. We estimated 4 million additional poor Americans in 2007, calling them "debt poor." This paper finds that the debt poor are somewhat like the poor (they are unlikely to own a home or have private health insurance), somewhat like middle-class households (race), and in-between in other ways (education levels). Debt poor households were likely middle class once, having access to considerable consumer credit; but following a loss of income, their large debt burden put their living standard below their poverty threshold.

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