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Publications by Signe-Mary McKernan on Poverty and Safety Net

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Debt in America (Research Report)
Caroline Ratcliffe, Brett Theodos, Signe-Mary McKernan, Emma Kalish, Additional Authors

Debt can be constructive, allowing people to build equity in homes or finance education, but it can also burden families into the future. Total debt is driven by mortgage debt; both are highly concentrated in high-cost housing markets, mostly along the coasts. Among Americans with a credit file, average total debt was $53,850 in 2013, but was substantially higher for people with a mortgage ($209,768) than people without a mortgage ($11,592). Non-mortgage debt, in contrast, is more spatially dispersed. It ranges from a low of $14,532 in the East South Central division to a high of $17,883 in New England.

Posted to Web: July 29, 2014Publication Date: July 29, 2014

Delinquent Debt in America (Research Report)
Caroline Ratcliffe, Signe-Mary McKernan, Brett Theodos, Emma Kalish, Additional Authors

Roughly 77 million Americans, or 35 percent of adults with a credit file, have a report of debt in collections. These adults owe an average of $5,178 (median $1,349). Debt in collections involves a nonmortgage bill—such as a credit card balance, medical or utility bill—that is more than 180 days past due and has been placed in collections. 5.3 percent of people with a credit file have a report of past due debt, indicating they are between 30 and 180 days late on a nonmortgage payment. Both debt in collections and debt past due are concentrated in the South.

Posted to Web: July 29, 2014Publication Date: July 29, 2014

Wealth in America: Policies to Support Mobility (Research Brief)
Signe-Mary McKernan, Caleb Quakenbush, Caroline Ratcliffe, C. Eugene Steuerle

What role can policymakers play in helping families rebuild their balance sheets after the Great Recession and in helping young families, families of color, and those with less education who were falling behind even prior to it? This brief, based on a convening of nearly 25 national wealth-building experts, presents the facts and identifies four promising policy reforms: (1) providing universal children’s savings accounts; (2) reforming the mortgage interest deduction to better target incentives; (3) expanding access to retirement accounts and automatic enrollment; and (4) promoting emergency savings while addressing barriers such as asset tests in safety net programs.

Posted to Web: July 22, 2014Publication Date: July 22, 2014

Do Racial Disparities in Private Transfers Help Explain the Racial Wealth Gap? (Research Report)
Signe-Mary McKernan, Caroline Ratcliffe, Margaret Simms, Sisi Zhang

How do private transfers differ by race and ethnicity, and do such differences explain the racial and ethnic disparity in wealth? Using panel data and a family-level fixed-effect model, we find that African Americans and Hispanics (immigrant and nonimmigrant) receive less in both financial support and large gifts and inheritances than whites. Large gifts and inheritances, but not net financial support received, are related to wealth increases for African American and white families. Overall, we estimate that the African American shortfall in large gifts and inheritances accounts for 12 percent of the white-black racial wealth gap.

Related Publications

Does Financial Support and Inheritance Contribute to the Racial Wealth Gap?

Private Transfers, Race, and Wealth



Posted to Web: May 28, 2014Publication Date: May 20, 2014

Disparities in Wealth Accumulation and Loss from the Great Recession and Beyond (Research Report)
Signe-Mary McKernan, Caroline Ratcliffe, C. Eugene Steuerle, Sisi Zhang

And here's the abstract for the published version, which can be included on it’s own landing page with the publication link under it's published title: Using over two decades of Survey of Consumer Finances data and a pseudo-panel technique, we measure the impact of the Great Recession on US family wealth relative to the counterfactual of what wealth would have been given wealth accumulation trajectories. Our synthetic cohort-level models find that the Great Recession reduced average family wealth by 28.5 percent–nearly double the magnitude of previous pre-post mean descriptive estimates and double the magnitude of any previous recession since the 1980s. The housing market was only part of the story; all major wealth components fell as a result of the Great Recession.

Posted to Web: May 01, 2014Publication Date: May 01, 2014

Impact of the Great Recession and Beyond: Disparities in Wealth Building by Generation and Race (Occasional Paper)
Signe-Mary McKernan, Caroline Ratcliffe, C. Eugene Steuerle, Sisi Zhang

This paper uses over two decades of Survey of Consumer Finances data and a pseudo-panel technique to measure the impact of the Great Recession on wealth relative to the counterfactual of what wealth would have been given wealth accumulation trajectories. Our regression-adjusted synthetic cohort-level models find that the Great Recession reduced the wealth of American families by 28.5 percent—nearly double the magnitude of previous pre-post mean descriptive estimates and double the magnitude of any previous recession since the 1980s. The housing market was only part of the story; all major wealth components fell as a result of the Great Recession.

Posted to Web: April 22, 2014Publication Date: April 22, 2014

Prohibitions, Price Caps, and Disclosures: A Look at State Policies and Alternative Financial Product Use (Research Report)
Signe-Mary McKernan, Caroline Ratcliffe, Daniel Kuehn

This study uses nationally representative data from the 2009 National Financial Capability State-by-State Survey to examine the relationship between state-level alternative financial service (AFS) policies (prohibitions, price caps, disclosures) and consumer use of five AFS products: payday loans, auto title loans, pawn broker loans, refund anticipation loans, and rent-to-own transactions. The results suggest that more stringent price caps and prohibitions are associated with lower product use and do not support the hypothesis that prohibitions and price caps on one AFS product lead consumers to use other AFS products.

Posted to Web: August 30, 2013Publication Date: August 30, 2013

Less Than Equal: Racial Disparities in Wealth Accumulation (Research Report)
Signe-Mary McKernan, Caroline Ratcliffe, C. Eugene Steuerle, Sisi Zhang

Income inequality understates the size of the economic gap between whites and minorities in the United States. In 2010, whites on average had two times the income of blacks and Hispanics, but six times the wealth. Analyses of wealth accumulation over the life cycle show that the racial wealth gap grows sharply with age. Wealth isn't just money in the bank, it's insurance against tough times, tuition to get a better education and a better job, savings to retire on, and a springboard into the middle class.

Posted to Web: April 26, 2013Publication Date: April 26, 2013

Lost Generations? Wealth Building among Young Americans (Policy Briefs)
C. Eugene Steuerle, Signe-Mary McKernan, Caroline Ratcliffe, Sisi Zhang

Despite the Great Recession and slow recovery, the American dream of working hard, saving more, and becoming wealthier than one's parents holds true for many. Unless you're under 40. Stagnant wages, diminishing job opportunities, and lost home values may be painting a vastly different future for Gen X and Gen Y. Today's political discussions often focus on preserving the wealth and benefits of older Americans and the baby boomers. Often lost in this debate is attention to younger generations whose wealth losses, or lack of long-term gains, have been even greater.

Posted to Web: March 15, 2013Publication Date: March 15, 2013

Child Poverty and Its Lasting Consequence: Summary (Fact Sheet / Data at a Glance)
Caroline Ratcliffe, Signe-Mary McKernan

Nearly half of children born to poor parents remained poor half their childhoods. Black children are especially disadvantaged: two-thirds of poor black newborns are persistently poor. Children who are poor early in life (age 0-2) are 30 percent less likely to complete high school than those first poor later in childhood, even after controlling for poverty duration and other factors. Reaching vulnerable children at birth is vital, as a child’s early environment can affect brain development. This factsheet summarizes the report “Child Poverty and Its Lasting Consequence".

Posted to Web: September 20, 2012Publication Date: September 20, 2012

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