Date of Award:

5-2010

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Sociology, Social Work, and Anthropology

Advisor/Chair:

Susan E. Mannon

Abstract

Access to consumer credit as a means of building wealth is one of the least examined forms of social inequality. The recent economic crisis in the United States has brought attention to the significance of consumer credit in our nation's economy; however, less understood are the specific obstacles and barriers that prevent low-income individuals from reaching the "American Dream." In an exploratory manner, this study compared credit access, credit literacy, and credit experience of low-income Latinos and non-Latinos to understand how credit might translate into asset-building and home ownership for Latinos, particular for those in new immigrant destinations where access to ethnic resources is limited.

Using survey data on banking practices, credit accounts, and asset ownership gathered from English- and Spanish-speaking residents in northern Utah between 2007 and 2009, this research found that low-income Latino residents are not in the same position to establish credit compared to their low-income non-Latino neighbors. As expected, Latinos in my study have less actively sought credit cards, auto loans, and other forms of debt than non-Latinos. As a consequence their credit literacy and experience is limited. Half of the Latinos in this study are not financially embedded and operate mainly outside the credit economy.

Surprisingly, this study revealed that having a bank account does not necessarily change one's financial behavior; in contrast to their native-born neighbors, even Latinos with bank accounts habitually paid bills with cash and/or money orders. Lacking access to and an understanding of credit remains a critical problem for most Latino immigrants, and unless changed such practices are likely to affect their wealth-building potential for years to come.

Ironically, choices to remain outside of the credit economy may have spared many immigrants from the kind of financial losses suffered by "financially embedded" individuals during the recent recession. Credit can enable families to purchase assets such as a home that enable them to accumulate wealth. On the other hand, problems with credit can lead to overspending, reliance on credit, bankruptcy, and foreclosure. More research is needed to understand the dynamics of credit and inequality for both Latinos and non-Latinos alike.

Comments

This work made publicly available electronically on August 2, 2010.

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