Life in the Sweatbox

44 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2018 Last revised: 17 Dec 2018

See all articles by Pamela Foohey

Pamela Foohey

Yeshiva University - Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law

Robert M. Lawless

University of Illinois College of Law

Katherine M. Porter

University of California - Irvine School of Law

Deborah Thorne

University of Idaho

Date Written: February 20, 2018

Abstract

The time before a person files bankruptcy is sometimes called the financial “sweatbox.” Using original data from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project, we find that people are living longer in the sweatbox before filing bankruptcy than they have in the past. We also describe the depletion of wealth and well-being that defines people’s time in the sweatbox. For those people who struggle for more than two years before filing bankruptcy — the “long strugglers” — their time in the sweatbox is particularly damaging. During their years in the sweatbox, long strugglers deal with persistent collection calls, go without healthcare, food, and utilities, lose homes and other property, and yet remain ashamed of needing to file. For these people in particular, though time in the sweatbox undermines their ability to realize bankruptcy’s “fresh start,” they do not file until long after the costs outweigh the benefits. This Article’s findings challenge longstanding narratives about who files bankruptcy and why. These narratives underlie our laws, influence how judges rule in individual cases, and affect how attorneys interact with their clients.

Keywords: consumer bankruptcy, debt collection, debt, chapter 7, chapter 13, financial distress

JEL Classification: D10, K35, K36

Suggested Citation

Foohey, Pamela and Lawless, Robert M. and Porter, Katherine M. and Thorne, Deborah, Life in the Sweatbox (February 20, 2018). 94 Notre Dame Law Review 219 (2018), University of Illinois College of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 18-21, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3126901

Pamela Foohey (Contact Author)

Yeshiva University - Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law

55 Fifth Ave.
New York, NY 10003
United States

Robert M. Lawless

University of Illinois College of Law ( email )

504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
United States

Katherine M. Porter

University of California - Irvine School of Law ( email )

401 E. Peltason Dr.
Ste. 1000
Irvine, CA 92697-1000
United States

Deborah Thorne

University of Idaho ( email )

Moscow, ID 83844
United States

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