Where are the most U.S. citizens in debt? San Jose and McAllen, Texas apparently.

Uncle Sam Is Broke

77 million American adults — which is one-third of the populace — have debt in collections right now. The average — remember, I just typed “average” — American with a credit file has $50,000 in debt. If you’re looking for things that are uniquely American, you can start with the old standbys — apple pie, for example — and move quickly to “staggering burdens of debt.” There are a couple of new reports from the Urban Institute — here and here — that are ultimately summarized by CityLab here. It’s an interesting picture. For example:

Debt is distributed quite unevenly across the United States, as the map above from the Urban Institute shows. In 2013, average total debt ranged from a high of nearly $100,000 in San Jose, California, the heart of Silicon Valley ($97,150), to less than $25,000 in McAllen, Texas. The report notes that “the top 20 percent of tracts account for 42 percent of all debt holdings in America. Meanwhile, the bottom 20 percent of tracts account for just 6 percent of U.S. debt.”

As you might expect, total debt is mostly a function of mortgage debt — as most people, when they buy a home, don’t have the cash laying around to buy the home straight-up — and there’s a correlation of .96 between the two types of debt (doesn’t imply causation, but that’s still a fairly high relationship). Here’s the bigger picture of debt — none of this is tremendously surprising:

Our MPI analysis backs this up. Mellander found that debt is higher in denser and more knowledge-based metros. Total debt is closely associated with population density (.56), the share of adults with college educations (.77), and the share of workers in the creative class (.69). All of these factors are also closely linked to higher incomes. Conversely, total debt is negatively associated with the share of workers doing blue-collar working class jobs (-.53) and even more so with smaller, more sprawling metros where a larger share of commuters drive to work alone (-.60).

As for why I mentioned McAllen as a place where citizens are in debt in my headline despite the fact above that McAllen debt is on average less than $25K, there’s this map:

Debt In Collections

That’s a look at “share of adults with debt in collection.” Look across the South. Bible Belt? Right. More like Debt Belt. Now get this: in 26 of the largest 100 cities in the U.S., over 40 percent of the population has debt in collection. McAllen is the worst there — 51.7 percent of the population, or basically half, is in debt — and cities like Las Vegas (oddly, deeply associated with “being down,” money-wise) are right there at 49.2 percent.

On the flip side, only six of the top 100 cities have debt rates for adults lower than 25 percent. Minneapolis-St. Paul is the best there, with only 20.1 percent of the adult population in debt. That might explain their relatively high quality of life, and/or be explained by their insularity.

The big takeaway here is that debt is highest in larger, more knowledge-economy-type metros — they tend to have higher housing prices and attract people that have greater levels of educational debt. The other aspect of the discussion, though, is how more blue-collar metros with less knowledge-economy jobs (such as a McAllen, or even a Vegas) might be in greater distress — because their percentages of residents in debt are a little bit higher (or, in some cases, significantly higher).

Here’s a map of debt overall, if interested:

Total Debt

Ted Bauer

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