Stopping the Debt Spiral

This report shares the results of a survey of 304 low-income Illinois residents who were asked about their experience with debt, including criminal justice debt. Respondents disclosed the types of debt they had, the number of debts they owed, and the emotional toll debt takes on their families. The findings suggest that citations and tickets disproportionately impact communities of color and people with incomes lower than $15,000, and the report cites city policies as a barrier for people to become debt-free and attain financial stability. The authors also provide recommendations to eliminate the harmful impacts of debt.

You can read the full text of the report here.

Key Findings
  • “Those with incomes under $15,000 annually reported higher rates of past due parking/traffic tickets and utility bills.”
  • “Families also report [perceptions of] racial and ethnic profiling in the levying of tickets and fines by police, which, if not promptly paid, snowball into more debt with punishing additional fees. For example, survey respondents in Elgin, Illinois report that Latinos are singled out for tickets for jaywalking.”
  • “People who have [unpaid city fines and fees like parking tickets] cannot get city licenses for jobs like barber or beautician or cab driver.”
  • Implement a financial justice analysis to ensure that government fees and fines don’t have a disparate impact on low-income people and people of color.
  • Create legislation to ensure that government entities, including courts, cannot impose unwieldy fees or debt collection procedures in order to fund their budgets on the backs of people who are least capable of paying.
  • Strengthen laws prohibiting the use of credit reports/scores in hiring.
POWER-PAC Illinois, a project of Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI)