The Color of Debt

Investigating Debt Collection and the Racial Wealth Gap

ProPublica's Paul Kiel and Annie Waldman spent a year investigating debt collection in three cities across America, exploring the routine corporate use of lawsuits to pursue millions of people over consumer debts, often as small as a few hundred dollars. What emerged from this investigation—a clear pattern that judgments arising from these suits were massed in black neighborhoods.

Their analysis of five years of court judgments showed that, even accounting for income, the rate of judgments was twice as high in mostly black neighborhoods as it was in mostly white ones. Kiel and Waldman reach beyond simple explanations and point the finger at the complex web woven by generations of discrimination and exclusion that has left black families with a fraction of the wealth held by white families.

Today, the typical black household has a net worth of $11,000, while that of a typical white household has $141,900. This racial wealth gap leaves Americans of color particularly vulnerable in a country with stagnant wages, high levels of debt, rising costs and aggressive collections practices. Please join us and a panel of experts for a conversation about debt, consumer protection, financial insecurity, the racial wealth gap, and where policy can make a difference.

Follow the discussion online using #ColorOfDebt and follow us @AssetsNAF.


Paul Kiel 
Reporter, ProPublica

Justin King 
Policy Director, Asset Building Program, New America

Anne Price 
Director, Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Initiative,
The Insight Center

Jeanette Quick
Senior Counsel, Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs

Annie Waldman
Reporter, ProPublica


Jamil Smith 
Senior Editor, New Republic
Host, INTERSECTION podcast