Two sociologists collected recent data from the National Suburban Poll conducted annually by Princeton Survey Research Associates, in conjunction with the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.  The result is a treasure trove of demographic detail focusing on the ten million Americans who went through a foreclosure between 2007 and 2012, in the form of a slim volume called, Foreclosed America (Stanford University Press, 2015).  The authors are Isaac William Martin and Christopher Niedt.

Foreclosed America tells readers, for example, that i) people of color are overrepresented among the folks who lost homes to foreclosures, ii) the “average” person who lost a home was 41 years old at the time of the survey, iii) foreclosure victims are less likely to have a college degree than others, and iv) are also less likely than others to be married (many were divorced before going through foreclosure).  As the authors point out, what “being older, having a college degree, being married, and being white have in common is that they are statistically associated with having a financial cushion.  Conversely, what being young, stopping education after high school, being divorced, and being a person of color have in common is that they are associated with economic vulnerability.  In short, the main thing that the dispossessed have in common is that they are broke.”  Id. at 31.

The dispossessed (as the authors refer to those who have been through foreclosure) are not all people who lost jobs or were confronted extraordinary medical expenses.  Many fell into default when their loan payments were adjusted upward and their falling incomes were insufficient to meet the rising cost of a note tied to increased interest rates.

When they moved, the dispossessed tended to stay in their communities rather than migrate across the country.  Many rent in the same neighborhood as their foreclosed home.  The authors point out that the “geographic stability” of the recent economic crisis contrasts with the mass migration that occurred following the Great Depression.  The housing displacement of ten million Americans resembles “a game of musical chairs” rather than mass displacement across the country.  People moved a few streets over rather than from coast to coast.

One of the book’s most interesting findings is that people dispossessed of their home by foreclosure are more likely to be politically disillusioned.  Public policy makers have massively failed to adequately address the housing crisis, or to provide constructive relief to homeowners facing or recovering from foreclosures since 2008.  One reason for the public policy failure is that our politics are corrupted by money, including by the substantial and corrupting financial influences exerted on legislatures by the financial services industry.  Those dispossessed by foreclosure are less likely to vote, for example.  Zip codes with high foreclosure rates also have lower rates of voter turnout.

The disillusionment is not the often heard conservative criticism that government is bad and can’t do anything right; it is instead the view that although government should do more to combat economic inequality, government will not really do anything.  The authors describe this as disillusionment; it seems to be political hopelessness borne of government’s failure to respond to the deepest human crisis our country has experienced since the Great Depression.