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Article Title

Life in the Sweatbox

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.

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