* Chapter 13 filings per 1,000 residents - black census tracts vs. white census tracts in Chicago…
* Pro Publica looked into what’s going on…
Because of a boom in Chapter 13 filings, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois, which includes Chicago, had more consumer filings in 2015 than any other district in the country.
Almost exclusively fueling this rise are residents of the district’s black communities, where the rate of filings has doubled since 2009. This racial disparity isn’t unique to the Chicago area, but there’s hardly anywhere else in the country where the gap is quite so wide. Even controlling for income, the odds of a black debtor in the Northern District of Illinois choosing Chapter 13 instead of Chapter 7 were about four times as high as those of a white debtor. And, as we found nationally, black debtors were less likely to successfully complete their Chapter 13 plans and have their debts discharged.
Why this is happening can be traced to the sort of run-of-the-mill financial hit many Americans face: traffic-related tickets. In Chicago, the failure to pay such tickets can result in a suspended driver’s license or impounded car, crucial lifelines to many low-income families.
In our analysis, we note that the rise in Chapter 13 filings has mainly been driven by black, low-income debtors unable to pay tickets owed to the City of Chicago. By filing under Chapter 13, these people are trying to keep their cars or licenses. Chapter 13 stops seizures and suspensions as long as debtors can keep up payments, but the data shows that most can’t. We also found that the Semrad Law Firm, also known as DebtStoppers, played an outsized role. The firm’s clients are largely black and overwhelmingly file under Chapter 13. From 2012 through 2015, DebtStoppers accounted for about 40 percent of Chapter 13 filings by debtors who lived in mostly black areas.
And if you click here for the whole study, you’ll see that Chapter 13 discharge rates are lower for black debtors than for whites. So, they’re staying in debt.