past event
Finance and Assets

Consumer Debt and Financial Insecurity: Trends, Risks, and Emerging Solutions

Just Released | Consumer Debt: A Primer

Aspen EPIC is taking our understanding of consumer debt public with the release of our consumer debt primer.

This research primer sheds light on the meaning of current trends in consumer debt. It investigates the drivers, features, and consequences of consumer debt through a comprehensive review of the existing literature. This investigation, as well as our other learning and discovery activities, will prepare us to prioritize problems and articulate a framework for developing solutions in the next phase of the EPIC process.


Last year, total non-mortgage consumer debt rose to record-breaking levels. This alarming trend raises important questions about the impact on indebted households, such as: Are consumers borrowing more because they are becoming more creditworthy or simply to maintain consumption? How does the changing composition of consumer debt impact families’ ability to manage their finances and achieve long-term goals? What is the role of non-loan debt, including bills in collections and public fines and fees? Who is not benefiting from increased borrowing, and why?

On March 20th, the Aspen Institute’s Expanding Prosperity Impact Collaborative hosted a 1-hour conversation on to explore these questions. Watch or re-watch our livestream to hear from experts in the field as they discuss what it means to be in debt today, the sociology of debt, and debt collections.


Panel 1: What does it mean to be in debt today?
This panel provided a high-level overview of how debt is molding the financial landscape of our country, as well as explore the consumer experience many households face in coping with varying degrees and types of debt.

  • Anmol Chaddha, Senior Policy Analyst, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, @BostonFed
  • Megan Kiesel, Co-Owner, Livelihood

Panel 2: The Sociology of Debt
How do individuals and households make sense of their debt? What are the ethical and moral dimensions of this problem? Is much of what we are seeing a result of structural problems and systemic inequalities?

  • Tim Ogden, Senior Fellow, The Aspen Institute Financial Security Program, @timothyogden
  • Fred Wherry, Professor of Sociology, Princeton University, @ProfessorWherry

Panel 3: Debt Collection
Debt in collections represents a growing challenge for millions of households. This is one of the strongest indicators of financial insecurity, and disproportionately harms households of color. This panel addressed failures and abuses in the collections industry, and the challenging landscape for reform.

  • Paul Kiel, Reporter, ProPublica, @paulkiel
  • Tishaura O. Jones, Treasurer, City of St. Louis, @tishaura


  • Ida Rademacher, Vice President, The Aspen Institute; Executive Director, The Aspen Institute Financial Security Program, @idarademacher
  • Joanna Smith Ramani, Managing Director, The Aspen Institute Financial Security Program; Program Director, Aspen EPIC, @AspenFSP

The Aspen Institute Financial Security Program is grateful to all of our funders who make the work of Aspen FSP and Aspen EPIC possible. Learn more here

Event information
Tue Mar 20, 2018
1:00pm - 2:00pm EDT
Online Video Livestream