Foreclosed: Economic Decision-Making in Insecure Households

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How do households confront insecurity? This dissertation is a study of how households navigate insecurity as observed through struggles with homeownership and foreclosure. I discuss insecurity as a multi-dimensional experience that puts important resources at risk of loss and reaches into many areas of family life, including health, wealth, food, essential services, social life, housing and employment. Insecurity affects a significant portion of American households, reaching across boundaries of the poor and middle class. In this dissertation, I focus especially on households occupying an in between space between poor and middle class, highlighting the fact that many Americans who are not poor are nevertheless struggling. I draw primarily on in-depth semi-structured interviews (31 families), follow-up interviews (a subset of 10 families) and a longitudinal ethnography (3 families) with households navigating homeownership and foreclosure, as well as interviews with local professionals who interacted with households facing foreclosure (15). In the dissertation, I focus on two broad questions. First, how do households make decisions in the face of this insecurity? Second, what strategies do insecure households draw upon in doing the work of making ends meet? While much scholarly attention has been paid to the lack of protection and heightened exposure to different forms of risk in US households, there is a need for richer data on how households make decisions and get by under these circumstances. I find that several elements of people’s social worlds play important roles in guiding and constraining decision-making. I specifically examine the social drivers of decisions around mortgage default and home foreclosure. Among these drivers are household heads’ homeownership narratives, their experiences of injustice related to homeownership, resource constraints within the household and network, and exogenous shocks that create unanticipated changes in available resources. I propose a frame of constraint that emphasizes the social embeddedness of household decision-making. This frame can help to explain some of the variation observed in households’ decisions in this area. I also find that household heads draw on a wide range of strategies in doing the work of getting by, and I draw special attention to strategies of postponement. I examine opportunities for postponement across many areas of family life and consider the benefits and costs of such strategies from the perspective of household members. The dissertation raises questions about the breadth and depth of insecurity across the population, highlights the constraints under which insecure households make decisions, and examines the implications of such decisions for multiple generations

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  • 02/13/2018
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