‘The Wire’ and the Bad Guys of Subprime Lending
Journalist and social critic Barbara Ehrenreich takes on the recession’s racial divide, making the point that the hard times are hitting the black community with particular fervor. In a New York Times piece this weekend, Ehrenreich correctly pointed out that even high-income blacks were more likely than whites to wind up with higher cost subprime loans, meaning blacks have felt more deeply the effects of rising unemployment and foreclosures.
But what I really liked about her piece — in addition to taking on a subject few have paid attention to during the crisis — is her description of a new subprime documentary, set in Baltimore.
In a new documentary film about the subprime crisis, “American Casino,” solid black citizens — a high school social studies teacher, a psychotherapist, a minister — relate how they lost their homes when their monthly mortgage payments exploded. Watching the parts of the film set in Baltimore is a little like watching the TV series “The Wire,” except that the bad guys don’t live in the projects; they hover over computer screens on Wall Street.
As TWI noted last week, lawsuits over racial discrimination in subprime lending are winding their way through the court system. Some of the allegations are nothing short of shocking; in one suit recently classified as a class action case, Wells Fargo is accused of using loan software with discounts on rates and fees in white communities, but forbidding loan officers in minority communities from access to it.
Wells Fargo has strongly denied these and other charges. But Ehrenreich’s report is further evidence that the conversation over the racial implications of subprime lending is shifting. It’s no longer just about blaming poor and minority borrowers for the crisis. Instead, the focus is turning to questions about the the morality of lenders, who discovered a gold mine in selling high-rate mortgages to minority communities, and took full advantage of it.