Debtor Nation

Hey, Mister, Meet Your New Landlord

According to the Washington D.C.-based Center for American Progress the typical middle-income American family saw its debt rise by 33.1 percent between 2001 and 2004. Staggeringly, said household now probably owes 108 percent of its annual income--the first time since the Federal Reserve began tracking this information that debt has exceeded income.

The reasons for greater economic distress among middle class households are not hard to pinpoint. Slow income growth between 2001 and 2004, the last year for which complete data is available, has not kept pace with the rising cost of big ticket items such as housing and education loans, medical expenses and transportation. Family budgets have been squeezed.

A common but misplaced assumption is that the growth in debt among middle-income families--those with incomes roughly between $25,000 to $70,000 a year--is the result of over-consumption through increased credit card debt. Rather, growth in debt is primarily due to heavier borrowing for investments in homes or education, both of which saw dramatic price increases in recent years. The cost of a college education, for example, grew by 24.6% between 2001 and 2004, after adjusting for inflation.

You can find a synopsis of the report here, as well as a link to the complete version.