The ProPublica project “The Color of Debt: How Collection Suits Squeeze Black Neighborhoods” won the National Press Club Award for consumer journalism-periodicals. The story and interactive maps by Paul Kiel, Annie Waldman and Al Shaw analyzed racial disparities in lawsuits used to pursue consumer debts. Through an unprecedented analysis of five years of court records, they found that the rate of debt collection judgments was twice as high in mostly black neighborhoods as in mostly white ones, even when accounting for differences in income.
"Through original reporting, data collection and analysis of judgments in St. Louis, Chicago and Newark, ProPublica illustrated that decades of discrimination have left black families with fewer resources to pay bills, while companies have become more aggressive in pursuing even small claims through the court system,” said contest judges. "The ProPublica package included interactive maps that highlighted the hardest hit areas in the three cities, as well as a six-step recommendation for fixing the debt-collection system."
Following the piece, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster proposed a series of changes to state court rules, including a requirement for debt-buying companies to prove that they own a debt before suing a debtor, and measures to prevent companies from winning judgments when the statute of limitations has expired.
See a list of all the National Press Club Award winners here.