As the recent economic crisis has demonstrated, inequality often spans credit and labor markets, supporting a system of cumulative disadvantage. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, this research draws on stigma, cumulative disadvantage and status characteristics theories to examine whether credit and labor markets intersect through the event of bankruptcy to disadvantage certain individuals over time. The transmission of bankruptcy’s stigma across markets occurs in a specific legal setting where, even though the current U.S. Bankruptcy Code grants bankrupters a fresh start through debt forgiveness, the Fair Credit Reporting Act limits bankrupters’ ability to begin anew because it permits employers to access credit reports. My findings highlight these ambiguities and show that, net of their previous labor market statuses, bankrupters spend less time working and have lower earnings than nonbankrupters. Thus, having become bankrupt exposes people to subsequent disadvantage in the labor market.
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