Kat Aaron

Kat Aaron is a project editor at the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University.

Recent Articles

The People's Court?

If you want to see where the problems of unaffordable housing and low wages and poor education play out every day, go to Detroit's 36th District Court. 

Associated Press
*/ Associated Press Detroit's 36th District Court The first time I went to Detroit’s 36th District Court, I didn’t know the drill. Most people don’t know the drill the first time they go. A lawyer I’d met agreed to accompany me. He went in the side door, reserved for attorneys and court staff. I joined the long line at the main entrance, waiting to pass through the metal detectors and have my bag scanned. No cell phones, the guard told me. Put it in your car. I waved the lawyer back outside. He was due in court, and his car was blocks away. Give me the phone, he said. I’ll bring it in. I returned to the line. You can’t bring in that hair clip, the guard told me. Just throw it out, I said. I scooped my bag off the belt and joined the lawyer, who was standing where the entryway carpet meets the linoleum, near a line of people snaking through a rope maze, waiting to pay tickets. I was intimidated and upset, and I’d been at the 36th less than five...

Between Rock Bottom and a Hard Place

As the recovery falters, state and federal governments are reducing benefits for the unemployed.

Last week, the housing market took another dive. Unemployment remained at about 9 percent, where it's hovered since January, and the economy added just 54,000 jobs -- far fewer than expected. The private sector added 83,000 new jobs, but continued government layoffs pushed the net number down. But you won't hear much about the housing and hiring crisis from politicians in Washington and in statehouses across the country, which remain focused on cutting deficits rather than addressing -- or even mentioning -- these problems. They are cutting programs meant to jump-start the economy as well as programs on which struggling people depend: unemployment benefits, welfare benefits, retraining funds, and child-care subsidies. This will leave American workers across the country stranded and could hamper the faltering recovery. Cuts to unemployment benefits Unemployment benefits are on the chopping block, at both the state and federal levels. They're certainly not cheap: With 14 million people...

99 Weeks of Problems

There are as many as 1.4 million Americans who have been unemployed so long they've exhausted their benefits, and they're angry. So why aren't they organizing?

A protester arrested in Manhattan in 2010. (AP Photos/Mark Lennihan)
Ninety-nine weeks is a long time. Ninety-nine weeks ago, it was early April 2009. President Barack Obama was wrapping up his first 100 days, and he saw "glimmers of hope across the economy." The official end of the Great Recession, in June 2009, was just around the corner. Tell that to Wayne Drescher. Ninety-nine weeks ago, the 59-year-old was three months out of a job and collecting unemployment checks. Now, more than two years removed from his layoff -- "a Monday," he says, "the day my world turned upside down" -- he's joined the ranks of the so-called 99ers: people who have exhausted all 99 weeks of available unemployment assistance. The government estimates that 1.4 million Americans are in the same boat as Drescher -- what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls the "very long-term unemployed." The National Employment Law Project puts the number far higher, at 3.9 million. "As long as the economy continues to be in bad shape," says Claire McKenna, a policy analyst at NELP, "I can't...

A Crisis by the Numbers

Will a a new national database give regulators the data they need to address the ongoing foreclosure crisis?

(Flickr/Sean Dreilinger)
With more than 1 million total foreclosures predicted this year, the government is finally taking steps toward resolving a vexing dilemma: It has very few details about this very big problem. Since the subprime mortgage market collapse in 2007, regulators, Congress, and consumer advocates have relied on what one housing expert describes as "a lack of even marginally accurate or complete data" on the level and nature of foreclosure activity. Incredibly, almost three years into the collapse, there is no nationwide, government- collected data on foreclosures. "We can tell you how many grapefruit are grown in every state in the country. But we can't tell you how many mortgages are being made, how many individual loans, and even the characteristics of those loans," says Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance , an industry publication. "We've got much better agricultural data in this country than financial data." In the absence of a government database, corporate providers serve...

An Anti-Redlining Law Gets a Makeover

New rules could transform the predatory-lending debate from arguments over anecdotes to conclusions based on hard evidence.

When Congress began tackling financial reform, the overhaul quickly became labeled as "historic" and "sweeping," with attention deservedly focused on regulating derivatives, winding down large financial institutions, and creating the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to regulate mortgages and other financial products. But lost in the torrent of news coverage was a significant move to change the way key information on borrowers and mortgage loans is collected and made public. Those changes, to the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) represent a benchmark in the long fight against lending discrimination. They could become an invaluable tool for consumer activists, regulators, and researchers trying to identify egregious lenders and their loans. They could transform the predatory-lending debate from arguments over anecdotes to conclusions based on hard evidence. Or maybe not. In the crucial rule-making to follow final passage of a financial-reform bill, the HMDA changes could also...