These numbers are particularly distressing because the increase in bankruptcies likely hits women, particularly single mothers, the hardest. The fastest growing group filing for bankruptcy is women filing alone; between 1981 and 1999, that number grew by 800%. In 2005, an estimated 1 million women filed for bankruptcy. Since bankruptcies have increased over 75 percent since 2007, despite changes to the law that have increased barriers to filing, the number of women impacted by bankruptcy is likely to have continued to grow.
Bankruptcies reflect economic instability often spurred by life-changing events, such as medical emergency, death in the family, or divorce. Experts note that women with children are less likely to have flexibility in their budgets to absorb the cost of unexpected events. Single mothers, in particular, are 50 percent more likely to file for bankruptcy than are married parents. Over half of single mothers in Illinois are asset poor, which means they are less likely to have a cushion to fall back on in hard times. Older women also have less to rely on in times of hardship, since they often have fewer retirement savings and rely on assets like cash and homes that aren’t protected in bankruptcy proceedings.