FACE OF AN ECONOMY: Debt burden of U.S. citizens, and tale of a museum

A Journal of People report

Debt is a big burden of US citizens. The burden appears unbearable.

Recent media reports from the U.S. said:

A couple caught in ‘financial spiral’ jumped to their deaths in Murray Hill on July 28, 2017.

Citing law enforcement sources the media reports said:

A pair of Manhattan parents claiming financial woes jumped to their deaths early Friday — leaving double suicide notes pleading that their two kids be cared for.

The bodies of 53-year-old chiropractor Glenn Scarpelli and his wife, 50-year-old, Patricia Colant, were found in the middle of the street on 33rd Street between Park and Madison avenues in Murray Hill after the pair jumped from the ninth-floor window of a 17-story corner office building on Madison Avenue at about 5:45 a.m., police said.

Glenn, whose office was on the same floor of the building where the couple jumped, titled the suicide note found in his pocket, “WE HAD A WONDERFUL LIFE.” It was typed on a piece of white paper.

His wife also had a suicide note in her pocket that read, “in sum and substance,” according to a source, “‘Our kids are upstairs, please take care of them.’”

“Patricia and I had everything in life,” the man’s note read. But it also touched on the couple’s “financial spiral” and how “we cannot live with” the “financial reality,” sources said.

Authorities at first believed that the couple struggled with health care costs. But an NYPD spokesman said later that there was no mention of medical-cost struggles in the notes.

The couple was in debt, another source said.

Area workers who witnessed the aftermath of the tragic incident were stunned.

“When I got here at 6:05 a.m., I walked by dead bodies on the ground,” said a woman who would only identify herself as Kazi, and who works at the nearby 7-Eleven store.

“I was scared. I’ve never seen dead bodies before,” she said.

Another man who works at the building next door said that when he heard police sirens, he looked out the window and saw the two bodies.

“Insane,” said the man, who identified himself as Harry.

Debt creates many other sad incidents in the U.S.

 

How much debt?

The question is: How much debt the U.S. citizens really have?

A survey on national debt finds out types of debt burden Americans the most.

Cameron Huddleston wrote on October 10, 2016 in GOBankingRates:

Many Americans struggle with debt. In fact, it’s the biggest source of financial stress in the U.S., GOBankingRates.com found in an August 2016 survey.

To exactly find out the type of debt weighing down the U.S. citizens the most, GOBankingRates surveyed nearly 3,000 adults across the U.S.

The question to the respondents was:

What their largest source of current debt is — mortgage, credit card, student loan or medical debt?

The respondents were also requested to provide the dollar amount of each type of debt they have including auto loan debt.

The survey found that a majority of respondents (51 percent) are currently not in debt — at least, that’s what they claim. Perhaps this is because some of the respondents were overlooking certain types of debt they might have, such as small balance accounts or loans in deferment, said Bruce McClary, vice president of public relations & external affairs for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC).

“It’s sometimes easy to forget about a loan if it is in a deferred payment plan, like some of the retail finance offers that let people skip the first six payments,” he said. “The same is true for situations where you may have a debt in your name, but someone else is managing the payments.” This could especially be the case with student loans among younger adults.

But among those who did say they are in debt, mortgages are the biggest culprit, followed by student loan debt.

The survey also found:

# A greater percentage of men than women have debt: 52 percent versus 48 percent.

# Older adults ages 65 and up are least likely to have debt while those ages 35 to 44 are the most likely to be carrying debt.

# Adults earning $100,000 to $149,999 are more likely to have debt than respondents in any other income bracket.

Although a majority of survey respondents report having no debt, following is a deeper look into the types of debt many of the U.S. citizens are dealing with — as well as tips on how to get out of debt and find debt relief assistance:

 

Mortgages: the biggest source of debt

Considering that the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show that housing costs are the biggest component of household spending, it’s not surprising that loans taken out to buy homes are the biggest source of debt for those surveyed by GOBankingRates. About 20 percent of all respondents named mortgages as their biggest source of debt.

The survey also found:

The median mortgage debt among those surveyed is $59,500.

Adults ages 35 to 44 are the most likely to have mortgage loan debt with 51% reporting they have mortgages.

Respondents in this age group also have the highest median mortgage debt at $100,000.

A greater percentage of men than women have mortgage debt — 41% versus 36%.

But, women owe a higher median amount — $74,000 versus $60,000.

A greater percentage of adults earning $100,000 to $149,999 have mortgage loan debt than any other income bracket.

This group also owes the highest median amount — $150,000.

Student loans: the biggest source of debt for Millennials

Student loan debt is the biggest source of debt for those ages 18 to 34 and the second-biggest source of debt among all survey respondents.

When it comes to student loan debt, the GOBankingRates survey also found:

The median amount owed by those who have it is $9,100.

Among 18- to 24-year-old Millennials, 36% have student loan debt — and the median amount owed is $10,000.

More than 40% of older Millennials aged 25 to 34 have student loan debt. They owe a median amount of $14,000.

A smaller percentage of young Gen Xers ages 35 to 44 have student loan debt, but the median amount they owe is the highest of those surveyed at $15,000.

About an equal percentage of men and women have student loan debt.

But women have almost twice as much student loan debt — $15,000 versus a median of $8,000 owed by men.

Those earning $150,000 and up have the highest student loan debt burden with a median of $60,000 owed.

 

No. 1 financial stress

On August 22, 2016 Cameron Huddleston wrote in GOBankingRates:

“Americans are becoming increasingly stressed over their finances. In fact, the current financial stress rates in the U.S. are among the highest they have ever been over the last five years, according to consulting firm PwC’s 2016 Employee Financial Wellness Survey.”

The report headlined “The No. 1 Cause of Financial Stress in Every State” said:

“To find out exactly what is causing so much financial stress among many Americans, GOBankingRates.com surveyed more than 7,000 people in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and asked them: ‘Of the following, what is your No. 1 cause of financial stress?’

“The survey respondents had seven options to choose from:

Paying off my debt (i.e. credit cards)

Not being able to retire

Not having enough money to fund an emergency

Wanting a nicer lifestyle

Paying for education

Lack of stable income

Paying my mortgage or rent

“Among all states and DC, the most common answer respondents gave was ‘paying off my debt’, followed by ‘not being able to retire’ and ‘not having enough money to fund an emergency’. The least popular answer was ‘paying my mortgage or rent’.

 

Total debt of average U.S. household

The average U.S. household has total debt of more than $90,000, which includes households that live debt free, and the average household with debt owes more than $130,000, said another report.

The report headlined “The Average American Household Owes $90,336 — How Do You Compare?” said:

“This debt burden is costing the average household more than $6,600 in interest per year – about 9% of the average income.”

The report by Matthew Frankel datelined May 8, 2016 in The Motley Fool said:

“How much do we owe, and to whom do we owe it?
According to NerdWallet’s 2015 American Household Credit Card Debt Study, the average U.S household with debt owes $130,922 – including credit cards, mortgages, auto loans, student loans, and other forms of debt.

 

Debt, an American apple pie

Another report headlined “2016 American Household Credit Card Debt Study” said:

“Debt is as American as apple pie: The average household has $135,924 in debt. For households that carry credit card debt, it costs them about $1,300 a year in interest. It’s time to take action.”

The report by Erin El Issa said:

“Debt is a way of life for Americans, with overall U.S. household debt increasing by 11% in the past decade. Today, the average household with credit card debt has balances totaling $16,425, and the average household with any kind of debt owes $135,924, including mortgages.

“While “don’t spend above your means” will always be sound advice, NerdWallet’s annual survey of household debt and its costs makes clear that increasing debt loads aren’t just a case of lifestyle creep. The rapid growth in medical and housing costs is dwarfing income growth, making it challenging for many families to make ends meet without leaning on credit cards and loans.”

Erin El Issa writes:

“Before we begin getting rid of our debt, it’s important to know how much we’re working with. Here’s what the typical household (hh) is carrying, as well as total consumer debt balances in the U.S.:

 

  Total owed by average U.S. hh carrying this type of debt Total debt owed by U.S. consumers
Credit cards $16,425 $764 billion
Mortgages $180,018 $8.63 trillion
Auto loans $29,058 $1.17 trillion
Student loans $50,868 $1.34 trillion
Any type of debt $135,924 $12.73 trillion

Debt balances are current as of Q1 2017; figures are updated quarterly by the Federal Reserve.

NerdWallet analyzed data from several sources, including the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the U.S. Census Bureau, to determine how much debt Americans are carrying, why they have so much debt and how this debt will grow and affect the U.S. economy in the future.”

Key findings of the survey are the following:

Why debt has grown: The rise in the cost of living has outpaced income growth over the past 13 years. Median household income has grown 28% since 2003, but expenses have outpaced it significantly. Medical costs increased by 57% and food and beverage prices by 36% in that same span.

How much debt we have: Total debt is expected to surpass the amounts owed at the beginning of the Great Recession by the end of 2016. Americans will soon owe more than they did in December 2007 — but that doesn’t mean another recession is looming.

The cost of debt: The average household with credit card debt pays a total of $1,292 in credit card interest per year. This could increase to $1,309 after the Federal Reserve voted on a rate hike of a quarter of a percentage point.

 

Debt soars as it becomes more expensive to be an American

The report said:

“Household income has grown by 28% in the past 13 years, but the cost of living has gone up 30% in that time period. Some of the largest expenses for consumers — like medical care, food and housing — have significantly outpaced income growth.”

 

Cost of living outpaces income growth

It said:

“Many people assume that credit card debt is the result of reckless spending and think that to get out of debt, people need to stop buying designer clothes and eating at five-star restaurants. But many people use credit cards to cover necessities when their income just doesn’t cut it.

“Out of eight major spending categories, four have grown faster than income. Unfortunately, some of the fastest-growing expenses are also the most material in many Americans’ budget. Medical expenses have gone up the most: 57% since 2003. Food and housing have also increased significantly, 36% and 32%, respectively.

“On its face, the gap between 28% income growth and 30% cost of living growth might not seem very significant. But for Americans who have chronic health problems or live in cities with a high cost of living, the difference can be huge. It’s not surprising that debt continues to increase when it’s becoming harder to make ends meet.

“After adjusting for inflation, household debt has grown 10 percentage points faster than household income since 2002. However, this gap has gotten significantly smaller since 2008, when the difference between debt and income was 38 points.”

 

Increasing educational costs

The report said:

“After years of rapid growth, education costs have stopped outpacing income — growing 26% since 2003, compared with 28% income growth.

“And while student loan debt has grown 186% in the past decade, this growth has also slowed in recent years. Between September 2015 and September 2016, student loan balances increased by just 6.32%, the lowest annual growth since we started tracking the numbers in 2003. [8]

“In addition to the apparent plateauing of education costs, it’s possible that student loan growth has slowed because of lower college attendance, specifically in the for-profit sector. There’s been a steep decline in enrollment at four-year for-profit institutions: 13.7% between fall 2014 and fall 2015.

“This isn’t totally surprising. Several for-profit colleges have closed due to pressure by the Department of Education and stronger regulatory scrutiny, and others are losing students as the economy rebounds and their potential students now have more job opportunities. In addition, the number of for-profit colleges that can award financial aid has declined.

“For-profit schools are, on average, more expensive than public universities, and students who attend are more likely to take out loans. Students are opting instead to either attend nonprofit colleges or universities or be in the workforce, both of which likely contribute to lower overall student loan balances.

 

Credit card debt

The report said:

“In December 2007, Americans had $12.37 trillion in total debt and $839 billion in credit card debt. Total debt is expected to surpass the 2007 number by the end of 2016 due largely to mortgages and student loans. That’s not a surprise, considering the increase in costs for housing and education described earlier. Credit card debt levels, on the other hand, are far from reaching recession levels. In fact, NerdWallet projects that we won’t hit December 2007 credit card debt levels again until the end of 2019.”

 

Cost of self-employment

The report said:

“Self-employment can be rewarding, but it can also mean incurring more debt than while working for someone else. Households led by self-employed individuals spend $1,631 in credit card interest annually, whereas heads of household working for someone else pay only $1,211 to finance their credit card debt each year.”

 

Methodology

NerdWallet reviewed internal and external data sources. Internal data has been identified as such throughout this study. The external data sources are publicly available online:

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, “2013 Survey of Consumer Finances”,

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, “Charge-Off and Delinquency Rates on Loans and Leases at Commercial Banks”,

Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Consumer Price Index”,

Experian, “Consumer Segmentation Identify and Manage Customers with Credit3D”,

Federal Reserve Bank of New York, “The Center for Microeconomic Data”,

Inside Higher Ed, “Borrowing Falls as Prices Keep Climbing”, Oct. 26, 2016,

Inside Higher Ed, “For-Profit College Sector Continues to Shrink”, July 15, 2016,

National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, “Current Term Enrollment Estimates Fall 2015”,

The New York Times, “Fed Signals It’s on Track to Raise Interest Rates in December”, November 2, 2016,

U.S. Census Bureau, “Families and Living Arrangements”,

U.S. Inflation Calculator, “Current U.S. Inflation Rates: 2006-2016”,

The Wall Street Journal, “The U.S. Housing Market in 9 Charts”, June 23, 2016.

 

Debt, a fact of U.S. life

Kelley Holland wrote on July 29, 2015 in CNBC.com:

“It may be a dirty word in some quarters, but debt is a fact of life for more and more Americans. And that may not be a bad thing.

“That is the conclusion of a new report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which examined debt through the generations. It found that 8 in 10 Americans are in debt in some fashion, most often because of a mortgage. And that debt is not limited to young people starting out life: increasingly, people are carrying debt into retirement.”

The “Eight in 10 Americans are in debt: Study” headlined report said:

“For many Americans, their debt is a burden, but others view it as a necessity. Some 69 percent of the survey respondents indicated that while nonmortgage debt was a necessity for them, they preferred not to have it — but 68 percent said loans and credit cards had enabled them to make purchases or investments that expanded their opportunities. And in fact, Pew found that higher-income people with more assets tended to have more debt, but even so, they had healthier balance sheets than low-income, low-debt respondents.

The report quoted Diana Elliott, research manager for financial security and mobility at Pew: “Americans have a love-hate relationship with debt. They know they need debt, but they don’t actually want it.”

The report said:

“Some of the differences in attitudes about debt were generational. Gen X and millennial respondents were more likely to express negative views about debt than were older generations. They were less likely to say loans or credit cards increased their opportunities, for example.

“‘The silent generation was twice as likely as Gen X to say that debt has expanded opportunities in their lives,’ the study found.

“Earlier research by the Pew Research Center found a substantial wealth difference between white, black and Hispanic households, and the new study found that differences in debt holdings were a factor. Median debt for white households, at $41,500, was more than double median debt for black and Hispanic households. And white families’ median net worth in 2013, at $159,400, was 13 times that of black families and 10 times the median net worth of Hispanic families.

“Differences along racial lines were also apparent in attitudes about student debt. When Pew asked Gen X and millennial student loan borrowers about any regrets regarding their student loans, just over half of the black and Hispanic respondents said they would finance college differently if they could do it over again, compared to 32 percent of white borrowers.

“That difference could relate to the colleges they attended. Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to attend for-profit colleges, where completion rates are often relatively low. According to Education Department data, 15.2 percent of blacks attending college go to for-profit colleges, compared to 8.4 percent of Hispanics and 6.3 percent of whites. Pew did not measure sentiment by type of institution, but overall the researchers found that 38 percent of black Gen Xers and millennials were paying for degrees they did not complete, compared to 26 percent of whites in those age cohorts.

“Student loan debt is a growing part of the debt load for many Americans, and it presents a special challenge for Gen X borrowers. One-third of the Gen X respondents have teenagers, and 83 percent of Gen X parents plan to help with college costs. But 26 percent of Gen X respondents have student loans of their own, with median debt at $20,000. Those with student loans have saved significantly less for their children’s education: they have a median balance of $4,000 in a 529, compared to $20,000 for Gen Xers without student debt.”

It said:

“These respondents do not exactly have a realistic plan B for college costs. ‘Many Gen Xers are carrying student loan debt later into life when many have college-bound teenagers. These same Gen Xers, 9 out of 10, believe their children will receive a scholarship, grant, or both, but the reality of that happening is quite lower,’ said Elliott.

“The result may be that children whose parents are still contending with student loans will wind up with more debt of their own, perpetuating the problem. ‘Although education debt may propel some Gen X parents to healthier balance sheets overall, the degree to which it prevents accumulation of sufficient liquid savings in time to help their children pay for college could fuel an intergenerational legacy of debt,’ the study found.”

 

The PEW report

The Bottom of Form

July 2015 dated report from The PEW Charitable Trusts – The Complex Story of American Debt, Liabilities in family balance sheets – said:

“One of the biggest shifts in American families’ balance sheets over the past 30 years has been the growing use of credit and households’ subsequent indebtedness. In the years leading up to the Great Recession, the average household at the middle of the wealth ladder more than doubled its mortgage debt.

“Although Americans’ debt has decreased since then, housing—which still is the largest liability for most households—and other debt remain higher than they were in the 1990s, and student loan obligations have continued to grow.

“And this rise in debt has not corresponded to a similar increase in household income.”

It said:

“Debt is particularly problematic for low-income households, whose liabilities grew far faster than their income in the aftermath of the recession:

“Their debt was equal to just one-fifth of their income in 2007, but that proportion had ballooned to half by 2013.

“Even middle-wealth households held over $7,000 more debt, on average, in 2013 than in 2001 and previous years.

“Despite these trends, the typical American family still has more assets than debt.

“And though debt may compromise households’ immediate financial security, prevent them from saving, or limit their ability to invest in their own or their children’s economic mobility, sustainable debt—which allows them to avoid financial emergencies or invest in their futures without putting undue pressure on their present-day budgets—can also be a positive force.

“Without such debt, many families would not be able to achieve homeownership, obtain college degrees, or start businesses.”

The report provides a comprehensive look at the complex story of American debt — how families hold it, their attitudes toward it, and how it relates to their overall financial health — and examines the life cycle dynamics of debt to better understand the distinct phases of debt acquisition and debt reduction in families’ lives. This paper draws on data from The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Survey of American Family Finances, collected in November and December 2014, for up-to-date debt estimates, as well as data from the Federal Reserve’s 1989–2013 Survey of Consumer Finances for historical trends. The study also explores how four generations of Americans—the silent generation, baby boomers, Generation X, and millennials—have taken on debt in specific historical contexts and how the peaks and valleys in the economy have affected them differently.”

 

Key findings include:

  • 8 in 10 Americans have debt, with mortgages the most common liability.

Although younger generations of Americans are the most likely to have debt (89 percent of Gen Xers and 86 percent of millennials do), older generations are increasingly carrying debt into retirement. Eighty percent of baby boomers and more than half (56 percent) of retired members of the silent generation hold some form of debt.

  • Gen Xers have higher mortgage debt than other generations at similar ages in part because of when they purchased their homes.

During the run up in housing prices before the Great Recession, Gen Xers were in their prime home buying years. The typical Gen Xer in his or her mid-30s had more than twice the mortgage debt that boomers had at the same age.

  • Americans feel conflicted about debt: Nearly 7 in 10 (69 percent) said debt is a necessity in their lives, even though they prefer not to have it.

A similar percentage (68 percent) also believes that loans and credit cards have expanded their opportunities. However, a generational divide in attitudes toward debt is emerging, with younger Americans being more debt-averse.

  • Debt can be good and bad for Americans’ financial health and sense of security, depending on age.

For older Americans, lower levels of debt indicate greater financial security, especially because they are most likely to be living on a fixed income. But among those of working age, the story is more complex: Compared with their peers with less income and wealth, Americans with higher incomes and net worth have more debt but also healthier balance sheets overall. This is probably because affluence facilitates greater access to sustainable forms of credit, such as “prime” home mortgage loans, that can help a household build wealth.”

The reports covering years show condition of debt in the U.S. citizens’ life.

It also shows character of the economy.

 

Story of a museum

Story of a museum shows character of the economy.

A recent AP report headlined “Nightmare at the museum: Art auction triggers ethics dispute” said:

“A Massachusetts museum’s decision to part with 40 artworks, including two by illustrator Norman Rockwell, has touched off a debate over whether it’s ever ethical to sell pieces of the collection to pay the bills.

“The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield has come under intense national and local pressure after announcing it’s auctioning the art.”

The report by Mark Pratt said:

“Critics say it’s violating a cardinal rule of museums: Don’t sell stuff to pay the bills.

“‘One of the most fundamental and long-standing principles of the museum field is that a collection is held in the public trust and must not be treated as a disposable financial asset,’ the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors said in a joint statement. The sale would be an ‘irredeemable loss,’ they added.”

The Boston, July 30, 2017 datelined report said:

“Leslie Ferrin, who runs an area company that represents artists, started a Facebook page for members of the local art community opposed to the sale called ‘Save the art at the Berkshire Museum of Natural History and Art.’ “Members of the group say they hope to convince the museum to change its mind.

“‘Selling gifts is against every moral and ethical standard’ of running a museum, she said.”

It said:

“At auction, the pieces are likely going to be sold to private collectors, and the public will lose access, Ferrin said.

“The sale is necessary to ensure the museum’s very existence, executive director Van Shields said.

“The money raised will help establish a $40 million endowment and pay for $20 million in renovations as the museum refocuses its mission to become a more interdisciplinary and interactive institution more dedicated to history and science.

“‘We are facing an existential threat. We needed to adapt, migrate or go extinct,’ he said.”

The report added:

“The art being auctioned includes works by Albert Bierstadt, Alexander Calder and Charles Wilson Peale, but it’s the Rockwell oil paintings that have stirred the deepest emotions.

“‘Blacksmith’s Boy —Heel and Toe’ and ‘Shuffleton’s Barbershop’ were gifts to the museum from Rockwell himself, who called the region home for the last 25 years of his life.

“Laurie Norton Moffatt, director of the nearby Norman Rockwell Museum, has come out in opposition to the sale.

“‘For the museum’s leadership, the potential price that these irreplaceable artistic treasures could fetch seems to have obscured their very rich role in the life of the Berkshires,’ she wrote in an opinion piece in The Berkshire Eagle newspaper.

“Shields respects the opinions of those opposed to the sale, and said he and the museum’s trustees “knew we were going to be pilloried,” but added that the auction is a done deal.”

The AP report said:

“When the Berkshire Museum opened in 1903, it was the cultural beacon of the region. It was founded by Zenas Crane, a member of the family that owned Crane & Company, a paper manufacturer that to this day supplies paper used to make U.S. currency.

“Now it’s overshadowed by the region’s world-renowned museums, including the Clark Art Institute, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the Norman Rockwell Museum.

“‘The cultural landscape has changed dramatically and the Berkshire Museum has not adapted to that change,’ Shields said.”

It said:

“Selling the works was not a decision made lightly. It was a two-year process that involved multiple focus groups, multiple retreats by the board of trustees (which includes a member of the Crane family) and input from hundreds of members of the community, Shields said.

“By switching its focus to science and history — and yes, some art will remain — the Berkshire Museum can fill a currently empty cultural niche in the region.

“Those opposed to the sale are in the minority. ‘We’ve received overwhelming support for this,’ he said.

 

A bridge

It’s not only a story of a museum. The following report by NPR gives another picture of the economy.

The “Top of Form

Bottom of Form

10 Years After Bridge Collapse, America Is Still Crumbling” headlined report dated August 1, 2017 said:

“Ten years ago, the Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis collapsed, sending cars, trucks and even a school bus that were crawling over it in bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic plummeting into the river below and onto the rocky shore.

Thirteen people were killed, 145 more were injured, many of them seriously.

“The bridge collapse sparked immediate calls in Minnesota and across the country invest big in repairing and replacing the nation’s aging and crumbling infrastructure.

“A decade later, experts say there have been some improvements, but there are still tens of thousands of bridges nationwide that need to be fixed or replaced.

In the immediate aftermath of the 35W bridge collapse, the Minnesota Department of Transportation came under intense scrutiny. The interstate highway bridge had been classified as structurally deficient, meaning that it was aging and in need of repair. In fact, some repair work was going on when it fell. And the bridge was also rated as fracture critical, meaning the failure of just one vital component could cause the whole bridge to collapse.

The report by David Schaper said:

“But in fact, neither of those classifications means a bridge is necessarily dangerous. And the National Transportation Safety Board determined that it was a design flaw, and not deferred maintenance, neglect, or other problems, that caused the 35W bridge to collapse. Gusset plates that hold the bridge’s huge steel beams together were only half as thick as they should have been. The NTSB also found that nearly 300 tons of construction equipment and materials stockpiled on the bridge deck for the ongoing repair work contributed to the collapse by further stressing the crucial gusset plate that failed.

“Nancy Daubenberger was still in the bridge office of the MnDOT just after 6:00 p.m. CT, when a colleague called with the horrifying and heartbreaking news.

“‘The first feeling was shock,’ says Daubenberger, then a bridge engineer for the state and now the director of engineering services for MnDOT. ‘The shock that came over me, that such a large bridge like that could collapse … it was devastating and tragic and shocking; a very, very sad situation.’

“Daubenberger says the state immediately inspected gusset plates on every single truss bridge in the state to ensure that they were safe, and within months of the collapse, the Minnesota state legislature raised the gas tax and funded a $2.5 billion bridge improvement program.

“‘The bill established a program to have all structurally deficient bridges and fracture critical bridges repaired or replaced within 10 years, so by June 30, 2018,’ says Daubenberger.

“The I-35W bridge was rebuilt within 14 months. Daubenberger says 172 Minnesota bridges were identified as structurally deficient or fracture critical. About 35 of them were determined to need only routine, preventative maintenance. About 120 of them have been repaired or replaced, while the 18 remaining bridges are either under construction now and/or are on track to be repaired or replaced before next summer’s deadline.

“‘I’m very proud of our accomplishments since 2008,’ says Daubenberger. ‘Unfortunately, it was a very tragic situation … and we never want ever happen again and we’re doing a lot of things differently now to ensure that sort of thing doesn’t happen.’”

The report said:

“Minnesota has also stepped up and improved bridge inspections, and now even uses drones sometimes to take photos and video of spots on bridges that are difficult for human inspectors to reach.

“The state now gets outside independent peer reviews of bridge design plans, and it’s revamped its bridge maintenance worker training program.

“But while Minnesota has acted aggressively to reduce it’s number of structurally deficient bridges, what about the rest of the country?

“‘America’s infrastructure is like a third-world country,’ says former Republican Rep. Ray LaHood, who served as transportation secretary under President Obama.

“The American Road and Transportation Builders Association, which tracks the number of bridges with structural defects in each state, found 55,710 bridges nationwide that need to be repaired or replaced.

“‘That’s a very costly item,’ says LaHood, adding that ‘most states simply do not have the money to take care of them, so they’re patching them and they’re doing the best they can to keep them in a state of repair where people can drive over them, but it’s a serious, serious problem.’

“Federal funding for bridges and other infrastructure needs has remained flat over the past decade, and LaHood is critical of Congress and his own party in particular, for not raising the gasoline tax to increase spending to repair and replace bridges and address other dire infrastructure needs.

“President Trump has promised to invest a trillion dollars on improving the nation’s infrastructure, but other than a broad and vague outline of priorities and talk of leveraging private investment for projects, he has yet to unveil a plan.”

The report said:

“With federal revenue lagging, many states have followed Minnesota’s lead and increased their own gas taxes to fund bridge and road improvements. In the last four years, 26 states have raised gasoline taxes, including red states dominated by fiscal conservatives. That includes Indiana, Tennessee, South Carolina, West Virginia and Montana this year alone.

“And state funding efforts, combined with a greater emphasis on bridge needs since the collapse, appear to be helping improve bridge conditions.

“According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, 12 percent of the nation’s bridges were rated as structurally deficient in 2007, but only 9 percent are in that category today.

“Still, ARTBA, the builders’ association, estimates it would take more than three decades to repair or replace all those more than 55,000 bridges that need it. It’s a challenge that will no doubt grow as structures age and federal interest continues to lag.”

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