Survey Reveals More than Half of Americans Are Victims of Predatory Lending and Other Practices

Inside Subprime: August 12, 2019

By Lindsay Frankel

New research commissioned by Public Rights Project reveals that more than half of Americans have been victims of corporate abuses ranging from unjust compensation to predatory lending.

The goal of the research was to uncover data that shows the harmful effects of illegal business practices on U.S. adults, as well as to understand why people neglect to report such abuses. In this unprecedented national survey, 54 percent of the 2,000 respondents said they’d been victimized by corporate abuse in the past decade, which included wage theft, unsafe conditions in rental properties, predatory lending and debt collection, and health issues caused by corporate pollution.

“This study shows how prevalent corporate abuse remains despite strong laws on the books,” said Jill Habig, founder and president of Public Rights Project. “The research provides a sobering snapshot of corporate abuse in people’s everyday lives and the need for enforcement to hold corporations accountable.”

The survey also made apparent that Americans want corporations to be held accountable for illegal business practices, with eight in 10 respondents reporting the belief that prosecutors should prioritize corporate abuse cases, compared to only 30 percent who said prosecutors should go after individuals for nonviolent crimes.

“Even with a recent push for better laws and policy, especially around wages and housing, if they aren’t enforced then people still get harmed. Enforcement is the last mile of good policy. We also believe focusing on crimes so many people suffer from will build trust in communities where typically they don’t feel protected,” added Jenny Montoya Tansey, Policy Director for Public Rights Project.

The effects of abuse were far-reaching, the survey found. Three quarters said their experiences caused stress and anger, and half said they lost sleep or incurred financial distress. One third of respondents developed medical problems, lost work hours or lost their jobs completely, or experienced problems in their relationships. And most people didn’t receive any assistance with these issues, either.

One respondent experienced worsening asthma symptoms as a result of living in an apartment complex with improper maintenance. This landed him in the hospital, where a doctor explained that allergens from the roach problem in the building could be causing his breathing problems. He attempted to get in touch with management, but his call was among thousands, since the building was operated by a large corporation. “Finally, they called an exterminator out to my place, but it took months. And unfortunately, this was just a temporary fix,” said 25-year-old Austin Clark, from California. “It was an old building and the company did not do routine pest control. They only sprayed in individual units when someone said something. Within a few weeks, I started seeing roaches again.”

Montoya Tansey said we have a long way to go to ensure corporations are held accountable for their crimes against vulnerable communities. “We have work to do in building trust among these communities so that they will come forward, report these rights violations and trust that the justice system will help them, instead of letting them down,” she said.

The survey, which was conducted by David Binder Research, involved interviews with a broadly representative group in terms of age and gender, race and ethnicity, and income level. The margin of error was ±2.9 percent for victims and ±2.2 percent for the entire sample.

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