More than 40% of people living in solidly Republican states have had credit problems referred to collection agencies. Hey, folks, that’s almost half the population of those states. These are the very states across the old south, into the southwest of Texas and New Mexico, where people voting Republican say the federal government needs to cut down on the federal debt. What gives?
One of the benefits of the computer and digital age is that we are getting a lot more data, as opposed to raw speculation, about what kind of people we are as a nation. We know, for example, that people with less formal education are more likely to be socially conservative and to vote Republican. We know where those people live and work and, again, a disproportionate share are in the old south. What it means is up to interpretation, but we are getting close to the point where multiple correlations can be drawn between education, earnings, religious background and many other habits with how people are likely to vote and how they are likely to feel about many issues (political campaigns have drawn those conclusions already and they, particularly the Obama campaign in 2012, are using the data to the hilt).
What the indebtedness pattern says, in part, is that people in states with lower wages overall are more likely to fall into trouble. Yet, this is the opposite of what one might expect, because the old south is the home of traditional values, like paying your debts, meeting your obligations and “keeping your word” by following the agreements you sign (credit agreements, for one thing).
When people get into credit trouble, it does not necessarily mean less profit for businesses. In fact, it can mean more profits. Any future credit will come with higher interest rates. There is a whole fleet of bottom dwelling businesses ready to take advantage of those in credit difficulties. First, the collection agencies that profit from collecting bad debts. Then, pawn shops and payday loan outfits, the last hope of those without credit to get through the next week or month. There are also the “buy here, finance here” auto loan lots, where used cars are often sold with a four thousand dollar, or more, profit and loans carry very high interest rates. (Repossession is also their specialty.)
The fact that most of the states with the most people in financial trouble are in the old south suggests a number of things. One, many people get such low wages that they can’t make it and resort to credit to try to get by. Two, those states, particularly the old southern, slave holding states, have laws on the books that protect business much more than citizens. One example is called “non-judicial foreclosure”, meaning a bank can take your house away without having to present any case in court, even a court designed for quick processing of foreclosures. Three, there might be a correlation between debt trouble and lower years of formal education, but that would have to be studied carefully to be confirmed. (Education is not a part of any FICA score at present, but lenders are generally free to consider anything they want, except sex, race or ethnicity.)
These new statistics add considerably to an emerging picture in the question of what is better for ordinary citizens, the higher wage east and west (with higher house prices generally) or the lower wage, old southern states (where prices for housing and other needs can be considerably lower). It is more than a little intriguing that those who consistently vote Republican also have the highest level of personal debt difficulties in the nation**. Are they voting for Republicans or against their own habits?
2/3s of the debt turned over to collection agencies represent medical expenses and student loans, which means that credit cards, while causing problems, are not the center of America’s credit difficulties. The southern states generally have the highest number of people without health insurance, these are the same states, too, that rejected participation in the expansion of Medicade for the poor and, further, medical expenses are a major contributor to bankruptcy across America. College loan debt cannot be removed by bankruptcy, so there is little incentive to file in that case.
Doug Terry, 7.30.14
**It could be that some significant portion of those with debt problems vote against the Republicans, but this is somewhat unlikely, because the voting patterns of the state are most likely reflected across the broader population. A definitive study of this issue would have to look at debt relative to actual voting patterns.