High Interest Rates Are Hitting Poorer Americans the Hardest

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High interest rates haven’t crashed the financial system, set off a wave of bankruptcies or caused the recession that many economists feared.

But for millions of low- and moderate-income families, high rates are taking a toll.

More Americans are falling behind on payments on credit card and auto loans, even as many are taking on more debt than ever before. Monthly interest expenses have soared since the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates two years ago. For families already strained by high prices, dwindling savings and slowing wage growth, increased borrowing costs are pushing them closer to the financial edge.

“It’s crazy,” said Ora Dorsey, a 43-year-old Army veteran in Clarksville, Tenn. “It does make it hard to get out of debt. It seems like you’re only paying the interest.”

Ms. Dorsey has been working for years to chip away at the debts she accrued when a series of health issues left her temporarily out of work. Now she is juggling three jobs to try to pay off thousands of dollars in credit card balances and other debts. She is making progress, but high rates aren’t helping.

“How am I supposed to retire?” she asked. “I’m not able to save, have that rainy-day fund, because I’m trying to take down the debt that I have.”

Ms. Dorsey isn’t likely to get relief soon. Fed officials have indicated that they expect to keep interest rates at their current level, the highest in decades, for months. And while policymakers still say they are likely to cut rates eventually, assuming inflation slows down as expected, they could consider raising them further if prices begin rising faster again. The latest evidence will come on Wednesday when the Labor Department releases data showing whether inflation cooled in April, or remained uncomfortably hot for a fourth straight month.

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