Elizabeth Warren's new chapter

Going for Broke
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  January 11, 2012

main_Warren_480

A book about middle-class bankruptcy, being published this week, includes a chapter co-authored by US Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren. Her contribution interprets newly available data to argue that bankruptcy is primarily, and increasingly, a middle-class phenomenon in America — and that the traditional steps to achieving middle-class status are the very same things contributing to the problem.

"I think her chapter in this book is a nice look back at what she's done for 30 years, and a look forward at what motivates her, and what would interest her if elected," says Katherine Porter, editor of the book, Broke: How Debt Bankrupts the Middle Class (Stanford University Press).

Warren and her co-author, Deborah Thorne of Ohio University, dug into a Consumer Bankruptcy Project study of people who declared bankruptcy in 2007. This was before the economic meltdown — in fact, it mostly reflects households whose financial distress began in or around 2005, when the economy and housing prices were strong. Nevertheless, write Warren and Thorne, their study shows that going to college and buying a home had already become causes of bankruptcy, rather than safeguards against it:

. . .These two traditional strategies for building wealth — college attendance and home-ownership — are increasingly divorced from financial security. In the past, we have assumed that these markers of the middle class strongly protected Americans from the economic stability that often leads to bankruptcy. It appears, however, that the financial tables have turned. . . . It appears that the debts taken on by students and homeowners may turn an otherwise prudent economic move into a high-risk gamble that, for a growing number of people, does not pay off. . . . These data suggest that in the modern economy, the path to prosperity may be far more perilous than anyone previously imagined.

Porter, a former student of Warren's at Harvard Law School who now teaches at the University of California–Irvine, says that Warren began work on the chapter in the summer of 2009, well before a Senate campaign was in her sights. "As she's gotten famous, people have said she's this unchecked, nutty advocate," Porter says. "But she's a serious academic. She's never left behind entirely doing research."

Warren's political opponents, on behalf of Republican senator Scott Brown, have also tried to portray her as an ivory-tower professor, a notion that her chart-heavy contribution to Broke may reinforce. (The Warren campaign did not provide comment on the new book, in response to an inquiry from the Phoenix.)

Related: Warren for Senate?, Review: One Day, The Smith Hill gang, More more >
  Topics: This Just In , Elizabeth Warren, middle-class, Broke
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY DAVID S. BERNSTEIN
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   MRS. WARREN GOES TO WASHINGTON  |  March 21, 2013
    Elizabeth Warren was the only senator on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, aside from the chair and ranking minority, to show up at last Thursday's hearing on indexing the minimum wage to inflation.
  •   MARCH MADNESS  |  March 12, 2013
    It's no surprise that the coming weekend's Saint Patrick's Day celebrations have become politically charged, given the extraordinary convergence of electoral events visiting South Boston.
  •   LABOR'S LOVE LOST  |  March 08, 2013
    Steve Lynch is winning back much of the union support that left him in 2009.
  •   AFTER MARKEY, GET SET, GO  |  February 20, 2013
    It's a matter of political decorum: when an officeholder is running for higher office, you wait until the election has been won before publicly coveting the resulting vacancy.
  •   RED BLUES: SCOTT BROWN EXPOSES THE EMPTY MASSACHUSETTS GOP BENCH  |  February 15, 2013
    It wasn't just that Scott Brown announced he was not running in the special US Senate election — it was that it quickly became evident that he was not handing the job off to another Republican.

 See all articles by: DAVID S. BERNSTEIN