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THE FRAGILE AMERICAN: Hardship and Financial Troubles in the 21st Century


Laura McCloud, Department of Sociology and Social Work, 101 Xavier Hall, Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA 98447; e-mail:


Rising economic insecurity at the turn of the 21st century made Americans increasingly vulnerable to financial distress. Studies of bankruptcy records show that personal hardships like health problems, divorce, job loss, and income disruption are the major reasons Americans fall into financial ruin. This article uses nationally representative data from the Survey of Consumer Finances to study the relationship between hardship and a range of financial troubles including bankruptcy, default, and credit access. We differentiate this analysis by class, expecting that debt troubles fall especially hard on middle-income families. Our results show that while the middle class is distinctly vulnerable, multiple financial troubles accompany hardship for all classes.