Chicago Parking Enforcement Causing Bankruptcies

One of the conundrums that taxes my brain these days is the question of personal responsibility. I’m all for it, but I worry about the people who don’t understand what it is or how to how to practice it. Education and the inevitable experience of facing consequences are the methods that taught me how to be an adult. However, I keep seeing examples of people who don’t receive much of an education and live their lives as if consequences are arbitrary punishments.

An article on motherjones.com prompted this session of thoughtfulness. The story was about a young woman with five years’ worth of unpaid parking tickets, late fines, and impound fees. A series of bad decisions and a shortage of money created a $6,700 debt that forced her to take a drastic step

Because of the unpaid tickets, the city garnished her state tax refunds. Her car was impounded and she couldn’t pay for its release. Her driver’s license was suspended. Unable to come up with $1,000 to enter a city payment plan, Reneau did what thousands of Chicago drivers do each year: She turned to Chapter 13 bankruptcy and its promise of debt forgiveness.

From what I read, this woman received tickets for parking illegally, not having a neighborhood parking permit, not passing emissions inspections and so on. She did everything wrong. But I am having trouble comprehending how her only option was to declare bankruptcy.

It seems Chicago’s ticketing policies are the reason for a lot of bankruptcies. The article reports that it the city issues 3 million tickets a year and that has made Chicago the U.S. city with the highest number of bankruptcy filings. According to motherjones.com, the tickets have more of an impact on poor neighbor hoods than others.


Ticket debt piles up disproportionately in the city’s low-income, mostly black neighborhoods. Eight of the 10 ZIP codes with the most accumulated ticket debt per adult are majority black, according to a ProPublica Illinois analysis of ticket data since 2007 and figures from the US Census.

I’m befuddled, because we all get tickets sometimes, but most of us adjust our behavior. That’s a concept we learn as children. It is difficult to understand the kind of poverty that leads to a bankruptcy driven by parking violations. But there it is, scores of people who don’t grasp the laws of car ownership, driving or parking and who can’t pay their fines when they get tickets. It’s tragic.

Despite my devotion to the concept of personal responsibility, I think Chicago’s approach is unethical. There has to be a middle road where you enforce the laws of the road and the curb, but don’t destroy peoples’ lives.

Read the article here.

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