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The Inclusive Economy

Coming Soon: Integrated Service Delivery Webinar

By Sean Luechtefeld on 06/05/2013 @ 05:30 PM

Tags: Events, Integrated Service Delivery

EDITOR'S NOTE: CFED's very own Kate Griffin will be speaking on this webinar, hosted by our friends at the National Disability Institute. We hope you can join!

Integrated Service Delivery Webinar

Wednesday, June 12 | 3 - 4:15 pm EDT

Join National Disability Institute as we explore "Integrated Service Delivery" and learn how to integrate financial services and asset development strategies to assist individuals and families build financial security. This webinar will define the integrated service delivery concept, the spectrum of options to integrate services and provide best practices from two organizations that have effectively integrated financial services and asset development strategies in to their programs.

Presenters include:

  • Paula Kelley, Client and Business Management Executive, U. S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management, Chair, Disability Advocacy Network, NDI Board Member
  • Kate Griffin, Senior Program Manager, Savings & Financial Security, CFED
  • Carolyn Seward, President/CEO, FWCA/MET Center – St. Louis, Missouri
  • Christa Brown, Program Specialist, United Way of the Bay Area – San Francisco, California

Click here to register for the webinar!

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Event: NeighborWorks Training Institute in Philadelphia

By Susan Bond on 06/04/2013 @ 05:30 PM

Tags: Events

Next Step staff will offer a day of training at the NeighborWorks Training Institute in Philadelphia August 19-23. Our course CP135 Successful Construction Using Factory-Built Homes will be one day and will take place on Wednesday, August 21. By taking this course you will spend the day with a team from Next Step, the first and only national strategy and scalable approach to bring factory-built homes to nonprofits nationwide. Next Step will show you tools designed specifically to assist nonprofits with the factory-built housing construction process including ENERGY Star certification of factory built homes. You will benefit from the expertise of our factory-built housing industry technical advisor, George Porter, who has over 30 years of experience in the manufactured housing industry as well as a great sense of humor in sharing his knowledge. George will cover steps from home ordering to planning to turn key completion of manufactured and modular homes. You will leave equipped to translate your site-built construction expertise into supervising successful construction using factory-built homes. This class is open to all, and is highly recommended for those considering applying to the Next Step Network and current Next Step Network Members. If you have any questions, please feel to contact Amy Barnard, our Marketing and Operations Specialist.

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Inspire Us for a Chance at $3,000

By Jimmy Crowell on 06/03/2013 @ 03:30 PM

Tags: Individual Development Accounts, Matched Savings

CFED & Bank of the West Announce the Saver to Homeowner Story Fund in Support of National Homeownership Month

Submit a success story that inspires savers to achieve their homeownership goals!

National Homeownership Month is here and CFED and Bank of the West have partnered to bring IDA practitioners an opportunity to support their homeownership savers. Each June, Americans have the chance to celebrate homeownership and reflect on the improvements homeownership has brought to their individual lives and communities. CFED, with support from Bank of the West, is reaching out to IDA programs to gather stories and photos of recent homebuyers in California and Tucson, Arizona that advance homeownership. For each story that is accepted, CFED and Bank of the West will provide the submitting IDA program with $2,000 in matching funds and $1,000 in administrative support for financial education (for a total of $3,000). IDA programs interested in applying must submit a homeowner’s story, a photo and a signed waiver for each eligible saver by July 15, 2013, and must comply with the terms on the Saver to Homeowner Story Fund website.

Here is the inspiring story of one family’s participation in an IDA program and their subsequent journey to financial stability through homeownership:

The Saeeds – Oakland, CA

Ali Saeed and two of his children

Immigrants from a war-torn region of Yemen, the Saeed family of Oakland, California, closed on a four-bedroom, single-family home in October 2012.

Since their arrival in Oakland, Ali Saeed, a taxi driver, and his family of eight have been driven to explore all opportunities that could help them achieve the stability they wanted for themselves. They made many sacrifices and worked diligently to build savings. The family has overcome many obstacles along their journey to homeownership – all the while caring for one child with special needs and another who recently underwent surgery. Now the Saeed family is gearing up to welcome a new baby to their household.

Eventually, their path led them to the City of Oakland’s Families Building Wealth IDA Program. When Terry Rabb, IDA program coordinator for the City of Oakland, remembers her interactions with the Saeed family, what stands out to her was the strength of their perseverance and determination to achieve financial stability through homeownership. “The vision of the Families Building Wealth IDA Program is to assure all citizens of Oakland equal and fair access to resources, which will produce a financially literate and economically sound community,” she explains. “The Saeed family is the living embodiment of this vision. They never missed a monthly deposit!”

Month by month, Mr. Saeed and his wife, Noor, gradually built their savings, eventually reaching their savings goal of $4,000. The Families Building Wealth program then matched their savings with an additional $12,000. The Saeeds also received a first-time homebuyer loan via the City, which provided them with a $60,000 silent second mortgage that helped make their home even more affordable. Now happily residing in his new home with his family, Mr. Saeed expresses “deep gratitude” for the programs that the City of Oakland and community partner Oakland Housing Authority offers.

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Four Lessons Gleaned from the Children & Youth Finance International Summit

By Bob Friedman on 06/03/2013 @ 01:00 PM

Tags: Economic Inclusion, Events, From the Founder, Recommended Reading

One hundred million children in more than 100 countries with financial education and services by 2015.

When Jeroo Billamoria first suggested that goal for Child and Youth Finance International, the global facilitator toward this grand goal, I thought, frankly, it was crazy. Even if you could achieve anywhere close to those numbers, the actual access, education and services received by many might be minimal.

But then, I like round numbers, aspiration and inspiration, especially around a worthy goal. And worthy, this goal is. One-third don’t even have a legal identity in this world, let alone the integrity, respect, freedom and opportunity all people—including all children—deserve. Children and youth, worldwide, are even more likely to be poor than their elders, and they, arguably even more than their parents, will need financial understanding, savings and education to traverse the daunting economic gauntlet of the 21st Century global economy. Even if we accomplished a fraction of Jeroo’s goals, the journey would be worthwhile.

I agreed to join the Board of CYFI (pronounced Sci-Fi, to further endear it to children of all ages). After all, who can say “no” to Jeroo?

No one, it turns out: 400 adult delegates from 102 countries and 100 children and youth from more than 40 countries participated in the second Child and Youth Finance International Summit, May 7-9 in Istanbul, Turkey. The delegates represented powerful international, national, governmental, financial, educational authorities, internationally recognized NGOs as well as leading researchers, practitioners, and children and youth. It was about as diverse a group as one could imagine along all dimensions. But, it was clearly unified by one shared goal and value: to include the world’s next generation(s) with economic citizenship, financial education, financial access and financial services. Clearly, there is a global movement for child and youth financial inclusion. To be sure, the call for 100 million of the world’s children to be reached with financial education and services is fairly undefined and allows the possibility that not all counted will have received meaningful access, inclusion and empowerment. But, just as importantly, CYFI’s goal is articulated in a call for both financial education and financial services, including at least an account. CYFI commissioned a global consortium of leading researchers in the field to consolidate international learning, and concludes that a combination of education and services is necessary and effective, whereas financial education alone seems to have little effect.

Many takeaways from CYFI’s International Summit are worth mentioning here.

Global Learning is Crucial and Timely: While we in the US have much to teach (SF K2C, SEED, etc. draw interest can allow us to glean crucial insight), we have much to learn from developments and innovations on all other continents, including from developing and poor countries where the numbers of savings programs, institutions, and child and youth participants are much more numerous and where the use of technology and especially the mobile phone is far ahead. Among the countries where model initiatives are blossoming from which we can learn: Kenya, Uganda, Ghana and Nigeria in Africa; Philippines, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka in Asia; Brazil, Colombia and Mexico in South America; and Egypt and Turkey in the Middle East and North Africa. For example, the Government Savings Bank of Thailand, established 100 years ago to promote savings, has established 738 school banks with 1,392,000 accounts, 122 mobile service centers, and 54,682 village and community funds.

Scholarship/Resources: CYFI’s Research Committee (led by many of our friends including Margaret Sherraden, Deb Adams, Lew Mandell, Willie Elliott, Fred Ssewamala, Trina Shanks and Mat Despard) produced and released at the Summit two documents well worth anyone working on CSAs reviewing, including Children & Youth as Economic Citizens: Review of Research on Financial Capability, Financial Inclusion, and Financial Education, and its companion report, which reviews and summarizes leading programs across the globe. In addition, CYFI has issued Child and Youth Friendly Banking Product Certificate Guidebook, the National Implementation Guide: Child and Youth Finance Initiatives at the National Level Guidebook and Beyond the Promotional Piggybank: Towards Children as Stakeholders. Among the significant departures included in these documents, I note several. First, the inclusion of social education and a rights perspective in economic citizenship that is the stated goal of CYFI—“that all children and youth realize their full potential as economic citizens.” Second, though financial education is undoubtedly the most practiced element of financial capability, inclusion and empowerment, there is little evidence that financial education alone is effective, and there is too much variation in what is meant by it. Third, a conversely, there is significant evidence that financial education and inclusion together have significant savings, economic, social and financial effects. Fourth, there is a hunger for and need to establish a unifying theory, set of measures, definition of different kinds and doses of financial education, and (among researchers at least) impact evaluation which separates financial education, financial inclusion and the combination. Finally, Lew Mandell and Trina Shanks agreed to produce a paper accumulating what evidence exists justifying the combined effect of education and services together.

The Business Case is Weak (and maybe not the right case to make): I went to a session on Building the Business Case for CYF where there was no case really presented, certainly no cost benefit or ROI from a financial institution perspective. Lew Mandell, chair of the session, turned to me as someone else pointed this out, to invite me to talk about K2C and how the use of batched accounts might lower costs. I do think there are reasons and ways to reduce the cost of financial inclusion to financial institutions (e.g., by universal enrollment, use of mobile and other technology, offloading financial education to the education system, finding more effective and simpler products and distribution systems) and to increase their returns (e.g., longer-term tracking, government deposits, etc.). But, as the session progressed, I began to think that the better frame is societal ROI, since the returns are longer-term and not capturable by a financial institutions or business entities. The potential returns are huge—in skilled workers, entrepreneurs, savings, investment, productive work and more—but the real case for universal financial inclusion is like the case for universal public education—a rightful pursuit by government and society.

The Importance of Child and Youth Voice and Inclusion: During the final session of the Summit, people talked through an address by the head of the UNCTAD. But when José—an eight-year-old from Peru, shorter than the podium—talked, without notes, pausing professionally for the translator to provide an English version, there was not a sound other than his calm strong voice in the room. I cannot do justice to his exact words, but here’s some of what he said:

  • “I don’t want to see any children working the streets."
  • “I don’t want to see any children going hungry for want of food."
  • “All kids should be able to afford books and clothes so that other kids won’t make fun of them."
  • “You should only use savings in the case of emergencies."
  • “We should recycle."
  • “We should learn how to make chocolate and sew."
  • “We kids can and should teach each other.”

The 100 kids who attended had their own sessions and made six recommendations to the adult delegates, including:

  • Financial education should be available to all kids and compulsory.
  • Adults should give their old cell phones to the kids of the world.
  • All kids should have access to bank accounts without expensive fees or minimum deposits.
  • All kids should have access to entrepreneurial training and jobs.
  • Adults should speak to and treat kids as equals and with respect.

Perhaps most important, they noted, all the above should be done ASAP.

The involvement of the kids was important, and their voices were the most powerful we heard.

For CYFI's Summit Summary and Findings, click here.

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Asset-Building News Roundup - May 31, 2013

By Veronica Weis on 05/31/2013 @ 11:30 AM

Tags: Recommended Reading


June 5-7 is the 8th Annual Underbanked Financial Services Forum. Presented by the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) and SourceMedia, the publisher of American Banker, the Forum provides an opportunity for organizations to share their successes and challenges in the underbanked marketplace.

The San Francisco Smart Money Network is hosting an upcoming professional development workshop “Student Financial Concerns and Solutions: Dealing with College Debt" on Thursday, June 6 in San Francisco. The training is intended to enhance the capacity of financial education practitioners to coach their clients toward successful resolution of student debt issues. Click here to register.


The Illinois Senate passed legislation that would save nearly $1 million annually and removes a significant barrier that prevents Illinois’ poorest families from saving money. HB2262, which passed out of the House with bipartisan support last month, will eliminate the “asset test” in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Sponsored by Representative Gabel and Senator Hunter, this legislation encourages savings and will allow families to gain financial independence. The bill now heads to the Governor's desk.

Heidi Moore, reporting for The Guardianargues that the $1 trillion 2013 farm bill currently being reviewed by Congress would harm the poor while promoting unhealthy food.

Income inequality has been in the news this week after the release of the National Bureau of Economic Research's paper "The Top 1 Percent in International and Historical Perspective." As both the Huffington Post and The Atlantic note, tax cuts might be driving income inequality across the country.

From the Assets & Opportunity Network

The Coalition for a Prosperous Mississippi tipped us off to a new report by the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program and the Small Business Majority offers a small business perspective on medicaid expansion.The report is just part of a growing body of evidence that shows that Medicaid expansion is a vital economic and public health opportunity that should not be left on the table.

Jose Quinonez, Executive Director of the Mission Asset Fund, shared a blog post reflecting on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) Consumer Advisory Board (CAB) recent public meeting in Los Angeles and shared an important call to action for advocates.

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CFPB Hears a One-Sided Story, Advocates Need to Speak Up

By Jose Quinonez on 05/30/2013 @ 09:00 AM

Tags: Financial Empowerment, Assets & Opportunity Initiative

Jose Quinonez at the 2012 Assets Learning Conference in Washington, DC

Last month, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) Consumer Advisory Board (CAB) held a public meeting in Los Angeles. The meeting was both to unveil CFPB en Español, a new website in Spanish dedicated to helping new Americans better navigate the financial marketplace, and to hear from the community about a wide range of issues that impact immigrants’ ability to engage in the marketplace. The first part of the community conversation was a structured discussion with community representatives to learn about the barriers and struggles immigrants face in the financial marketplace. The second part of the community conversation was open to the public. After the community discussion concluded, audience members were invited to make comments.

Wearing my hat as the chair of the CAB, I can say that I was genuinely hoping to hear about the experience of real people who find themselves in the need of short-term credit. I was admittedly disappointed that those who spoke out were overwhelmingly industry employees or individuals who had been prepped with the industry’s party-line.

Wearing my hat as the Executive Director of the Mission Asset Fund, which is a community organization that serves financially-excluded, mostly immigrant communities and is a Lead Local Organization in the Assets & Opportunity Network, I was glad to hear from Andrew Chang from CABO, which is the Assets & Opportunity Network Lead Local Organization in Los Angeles. He argued that high-cost, small-dollar loans are a serious concern for families who get trapped in a cycle of debt and who spend hundreds of dollars to repay loans that they could be using for day-to-day needs or to save for the future. He urged the CFPB to use its authority to protect consumers from unfair, deceptive and abusive practices and recommended five specific policies the CFPB should adopt.

As chair of the CAB, which is the community voice into CFPB, I am committed to listening to the voices and experiences of all stakeholders in the consumer financial marketplace and using that experience to shape policy options. As a leader in the Assets & Opportunity Network, I am committed to fighting for access to credit on fair terms and I encourage you to do the same.

Here are two things you can do:

  1. Share what works. We recognize that a critical part of reforming the predatory short-term consumer loan industry is ensuring that there are affordable alternatives for borrowers. What strategies have you seen work? How could those strategies be delivered at scale?
  2. Raise your voice not once, but every time there is an opportunity for public comment. You have the ear of the federal government. It’s time to say something!

Remember that the industry is well-funded and ready to show up at each and every event with their buttons and stickers, pushing forward individuals who have been talked into believing that payday lenders are the answer. If advocates for the financially-excluded want to be heard, we must show our collective strength.

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Today is 529 College Savings Day!

By Veronica Weis on 05/29/2013 @ 11:00 AM

Tags: Children's Savings Accounts, Education

Today, May 29, is National 529 College Savings Day, a day to raise awareness about the importance of saving for college with 529 plans. This year, more than 30 states across the country are celebrating 529 day by hosting education sessions, waiving enrollment fees, offering 529 plan scholarships and more. To see an interactive map by The College Savings Plans Network with events nationwide, click here.

To highlight the importance of college savings, we have been sharing student saver stories on the 1:1 Fund's blog this week here. The three-part series features profiles of the participants who spoke with Martha Kanter, Under Secretary of Education, in a Conversation with Savers at the 2012 Assets Learning Conference in Washington, D.C.

Ways to Participate:

  • Share your college savings experience with us in the comments below
  • Post a tweet to let your network know about 529 College Savings Day
  • Follow the conversation on Twitter to learn about more resources and tools to help raise awareness

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Asset-Building News Roundup - May 24, 2013

By Veronica Weis on 05/24/2013 @ 11:00 AM

Tags: Recommended Reading


Next Step is offering a day of training at the NeighborWorks Training Institute in Philadelphia on Wednesday, August 21. The course, Successful Construction Using Factory-Built Homes, will cover tools designed specifically to assist nonprofits with the factory-built housing construction process. They’ll cover steps from home ordering to planning to turn key completion of manufactured and modular homes. Participants will leave equipped to translate site-built construction expertise into supervising successful construction using factory-built homes. Click here to register before the June 24 deadline.

Next Wednesday is 529 Saving for College Day. As part of the campaign, nationally recognized "529 Guru" Joe Hurley will be presenting a live webinar open to anyone wishing to learn more about 529 plans.


Good news from the Illinois Asset Building Group: The Illinois Senate passed legislation that saves our state nearly $1 million annually, while removing a significant barrier that prevents Illinois’ poorest families from saving money. HB2262, which passed out of the House with bipartisan support last month, will eliminate the “asset test” in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, commonly known as “welfare.” Read more here.

According to "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America," a new book released this week by researchers Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube of the Brookings Institution, suburban poverty has increased by 64 percent in the last decade. For coverage of this troubling trend, the Washington Post offers an interesting read.

From the Assets & Opportunity Network

In a blog post earlier this week, Ed Sivak, Director of the Coalition for a Prosperous Mississippi, explains why pitting education against expanding Medicaid omits a number of important facts in a way that is misleading to readers and presents a false choice between two of our state’s most critical priorities.

In this issue brief, the Ohio CASH Coalition makes the case for why expanding Medicaid would be good for Ohio and good for Ohioans.

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How Can Democratized Wealth Build Assets?

By Sean Luechtefeld and Veronica Weis on 05/22/2013 @ 04:00 PM

Tags: Economic Inclusion, Events, Integrated Service Delivery

This afternoon, we had the pleasure of attending “Democratizing Wealth and a Sustainable Future,” a New America Foundation event featuring University of Maryland Professor and Democracy Collaborative Co-founder Gar Alperovitz.

Video streaming by Ustream, Courtesy of New America Foundation

Building on some of the arguments put forth in his new book, What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk about the Next American Revolution, Alperovitz discussed democratized wealth as a linchpin component of a new economic politic. Under this new system, a more inclusive American economy would require:

  1. Systemic changes (i.e., changes to the structures in place that enable increasing and unsustainable levels of wealth concentration),
  2. Political changes (i.e., changes to how we understand the importance of democratized wealth)

Alperovitz provided a myriad of examples of wealth democratization, ranging from worker-owned businesses and credit unions where stakeholders actually get a vote, to models such as the Cleveland Clinic Model which focus on sustainable community development. As we listened to these examples, we couldn’t help but be reminded of how these models mirror, in a number of ways, the integrated service delivery models that are being pioneered by leaders in the assets field.

Take, for example, Haven for Hope in San Antonio. This 37-acre residential campus provides communal living facilities, employment assistance, financial education and training, and other asset-building services, all in a convenient one-stop center. The rationale behind Haven for Hope is that by embedding these services together, they can be delivered and taken up more effectively than when offered individually.

This logic seems similar to the rationale for the development around the Cleveland Clinic. As Alperovitz discussed, the idea in that community was to locate cooperatively owned businesses near “anchors” such as hospitals and universities that weren’t likely to leave the community, thereby creating long-term economic growth with the added benefit of giving residents easy access to health care and education services. Again, the logic supposes that bringing services together makes them more effective than when offered separately.

Our question, then (and perhaps unsurprisingly), is how we might bring democratized ownership models together with asset-building strategies to supercharge the effectiveness of both. In other words, how could the idea of cooperative ownership be integrated into a one-stop shop like Haven for Hope as a method for empowering low-income individuals to create their own pathways to economic mobility? Certainly, this is a complex question, but we’d love to hear your ideas.

As always, many thanks to the folks at New America Foundation for yet another thought-provoking event!

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CFED Notes: A Foot in the Door to the American Dream

By Jeremie Greer and Emanuel Nieves on 05/21/2013 @ 02:30 PM

Tags: Recommended Reading

A Foot in the Door to the American Dream: A Forum on College Savings Accounts

Nearly every parent aspires to see their child walk across the stage in a commencement ceremony to receive their college degree. Undeniably, access to a quality college education has proven to be essential in climbing the economic ladder out of poverty and into the middle class. Unfortunately, soaring tuition and the burden of out-of-control student debt have threatened to make this important pathway to economic security out of reach for far too many young people.

On Thursday, May 9th, CFED and Opportunity Nation joined forces with Senators Christopher Coons (D-DE) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) to host a lunchtime policy forum to bring attention to an extremely powerful tool for enhancing access to a college education for millions of low income young people: Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs).

At the event, Senator Coons announced the reintroduction of the American Dream Accounts Act, which uses existing Department of Education funds to create expand college access opportunities to low-income students by monitoring higher education readiness through a personal online savings account.

To watch videos of the event, visit our Youtube page here.

Introducing CFED’s Newest Fact File: Microbusinesses – America’s Invisible Job Creators

As Congress continues to work on how best to create jobs in America, high-growth small businesses receive much attention. But a vast majority of small business owners (26 million, more than 95% of all small businesses) are running firms with five or fewer employees (often called “microbusinesses”), and their firms have not been the targets of many small business policies. This invisible majority of entrepreneurs are cafe owners, construction contractors, bookkeepers, child-care providers and other Main Street businesses.

  • 22 million small-business owners are self-employed and generate almost $1 trillion in economic activity per year.
  • An additional 4 million microbusinesses employ 1-4 people.
  • While their overall economic impact is large, a majority – nearly 74% – of microbusiness owners do business in their local communities.

Unfortunately, 13 million microbusiness owners are financially vulnerable. Federal small business policies aren’t working for the smallest businesses, where and when it comes to research and policy that focus on small business, most emphasize the minority (fewer than five percent) who employ more than 20 workers. As a result, the majority of government programs and resources meant to assist small businesses are unavailable to these microbusiness owners.

For more information on the facts on Microbusinesses, click here.

Rethinking Pell Grants: Enhancing Access to a College Education for Low-Income Students

For more than 30 years, Pell Grants have made the dream of a college education a reality for millions of low-income young people. However, rapid growth in the uptake of Pell Grants has caused some to question the fiscal sustainability of this powerfully important program.

The College Board recently released a report that recommends linking two extremely powerful tools to enhance access to a college education to millions of low income young people: Pell Grants and Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs). In this report, The College Board recommendations center around the creation of “education accounts” aimed at narrowing the financial and information gaps between low-income youth and young people that grow up under more privileged circumstances. The College Board’s recommendations of linking these two important tools would begin to put college back within reach for millions of low-income young students.

To read the full report, click here.

The Racial Wealth Gap in America

Recently, our colleagues at the Urban Institute released a powerful three-minute video explaining just how pervasive the growing racial wealth gap is, which uses CFED's findings in our Upside Down report to illustrate how, despite spending $400 billion on asset-building incentives, the federal government still fails to reach the populations who need support in building wealth and financial security.

We invite you to view the three-minute video here.

Blogtakes: CFED Viewpoints

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Asset-Building News Roundup - May 17, 2013

By Veronica Weis on 05/17/2013 @ 12:00 PM

Tags: Recommended Reading


June 5-7, 2013 participate in the 8th Annual Underbanked Financial Services Forum, the country’s only conference that brings together bank and credit union executives, technology entrepreneurs, retailers, investors, regulators, nonprofit providers, and consumer advocates to discuss market opportunities for advancing innovative efforts and reaching the financially underserved. Presented by the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) and SourceMedia, the publisher of American Banker, the Forum provides an opportunity for organizations to share their successes and challenges in the underbanked marketplace. Register here to attend the Forum and use code PTNR13 to receive $200 off of the current rate.

NCLR is hosting an event on Tuesday, June 4th from 10am-11:30am at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The event will feature the release of a new NCLR report focused on Latino access to financial services, and will highlight immigrant inclusion in the financial market, and the ways in which citizenship provides new opportunities for individuals to build their financial capacity. The event will also feature remarks by Elizabeth Garza, Managing Director of Citi Global Consumer Banking, Governance, Regulatory and External Affairs, Janet Murguía, President and CEO of NCLR, and Janis Bowdler, Director of Wealth-Building Policy Project at NCLR. You can RSVP here.


After a decade of advocacy, the Colorado legislature passed SB 13-001, which makes the EITC permanent set at 10% of the federal credit and also includes a Child Tax Credit. The bill, however, includes triggers that mean the credits will only be paid out of revenue above the current General Fund expenditures.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 25 states have bills pending on predatory small-dollar lending. In good news, the Texas House Investments & Financial Services Committee held a public hearing on SB 1247, which has already passed the Senate and would regulate payday and auto-title lending. Washington legislators defeated HB 2040, which would have replaced the payday loan system with an equally predatory high-interest installment loan system.

Senators Coons (D-DE) and Rubio (R-FL) introduced the American Dream Accounts Act, which would open college savings accounts for low-income students and monitor college readiness online. For more info, check out our President Andrea Levere's op-ed in Politico with Opportunity Nation's Mark Edwards here.

From the Assets & Opportunity Network

The Ohio CASH Coalition shared a blog post earlier this week with highlights from their recent brief, "Mothers and Medicaid: Expanded health coverage would help Ohio families."

The Assets & Opportunity Network developed five recommendations to curb predatory short-term, small-dollar lending for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The Washington Asset Building Coalition, an A&O Network Lead Organization, is accepting proposals for workshop presentations at their statewide conference in Yakima from September 18-19, 2013. The deadline for proposals is May 24.

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Scaling Innovations for Low-Income Families

By Kori Hattemer on 05/15/2013 @ 01:00 PM

Tags: Events, Financial Empowerment, Integrated Service Delivery

At CFED, we are always interested in innovative approaches to creating pathways to financial security for low- and moderate-income families, so I enjoyed attending a conference that Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and United Way hosted last month to share their experiences scaling integrated service delivery.

The conference, “From Promise to Practice: Scaling Innovations for Low-Income Families,” brought together philanthropists, intermediaries, researchers and government agencies involved with this work to share the lessons learned over the past 10 years as organizations have developed the integrated service delivery model. FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg delivered the keynote and Jonathan Greenblatt, Director of the White House Office on Social Innovation and Civic Participation, spoke, along with senior leadership from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the United Way, the Citi Foundation and the Aspen Institute.

At the event, LISC shared the method they developed for integrating services at their Financial Opportunity Centers, where staff members encourage clients to bundle three types of services—financial, income support and employment. Other leaders that are helping expand this model include United Way’s SparkPoint Centers and the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Centers for Working Families, which was the impetus behind LISC’s work in this area. Since the beginning, these organizations have shared their experiences with one another and used their collective lessons learned to make adjustments and build a new evidence-based model for delivering services that improve family financial stability.

This model of integrated service delivery has produced promising outcomes, which led LISC and its partners to develop a national framework for scaling it. Using this framework, LISC has launched more than 65 centers in 25 cities across the country by standardizing policies and processes (to the extent feasible with diverse implementation partners on the ground) and building the infrastructure needed to support the initiative as it grows.

Recognizing that many organizations struggle to bring promising new practices to scale, LISC has published a report on their own experiences that is a must-read for organizations interested in scaling integration models. Report author Chris Walker said that among the factors that enabled their centers to grow were private philanthropy from foundations such as Annie E. Casey and Citi, federal funding from the Social Innovation Fund, and an intermediary approach in which LISC operated at the national and local level to provide technical assistance and training, maintain high levels of accountability, mobilize resources and develop policy.

CFED is currently involved in numerous projects to explore how asset-building projects—including financial education, tax preparation assistance, getting people banked and helping them to save and build their credit score—can be integrated into existing social services to build financial security and improve program outcomes. Our work in this area (which you can read about here) builds upon the work of these innovative philanthropists and practitioners who have integrated social services to increase financial capability and willingly shared their lessons and models as they evolved, as well as the many organizations who are currently involved in bundling services and integrating asset building. I look forward to continuing to learn from and alongside these innovative partners to improve our policies and programs that empower low- and moderate-income families to achieve financial stability.

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A Powerful Moment in the Children's Savings Story

By Michael Chasnow on 05/14/2013 @ 11:00 AM

Tags: Children's Savings Accounts, Matched Savings

EDITOR'S NOTE: This post originally appeared on the 1:1 Fund blog, which you can read here.

A couple of weeks ago, WNET’s Need to Know feature on the Mississippi College Savings Account Program, one of two 1:1 Fund pilot sites, aired nationally on PBS. Recently, we spoke with Ernestine Bilbrew, VP of Program Development for the Mississippi Community Financial Access Coalition (MCFAC), to hear how the Need to Know segment impacted her and the MS College Savings Account Program.

How was it having the ‘Need to Know’ film crew in Jackson, MS?

I think it was a really good experience for all of us that are part of the Mississippi College Savings Account Program – MCFAC, our partners, the children, our parents. With the early childhood development centers, the way they got involved and made each of the activities work – visits to the bank, parent workshops, the grocery store a field trip to Jackson State – it was amazing. We were able to capture the whole essence of the program. It highlighted the early childhood development centers and parents, who are central to the program. It was very educational for all of us, but a really positive experience for the centers and parents, as it captured their great participation and they were the key focus of the segment.

What was the most powerful part of the few days of filming for you?

Ernestine with savers at Hope Credit Union (image courtesy Megan Thompson & WNET).

Wow, several parts of those few days really moved me. First of all, when the kids went to the bank. Many of the students stood up on the stool, and would say they wanted to make a deposit. Then, the children would sign their name to show what they were doing, and make the deposit official. For me, this was very telling – these kids had taken ownership of their savings account.

Also, on the tour of Jackson State, the kids had so many questions – they wanted to know everything that was going on at the college, from the different subjects taught in buildings to where students would go to eat.

Then, with the parent session one evening at Jones Early Childhood Development Center, all of it really hit home. I did not realize the type of effect the program was having on parents, who were really proud that they were taking steps to help their children build a better future. That had to be one of the most powerful moments when parents were talking about how much the program had helped and motivated them.

What did you learn from the filming and overall experience?

I did not realize the impact that the program had on parents. Even though it is a children’s savings program, and we were more or less focused on the kids, I did not realize that we were having such a large impact on parents. Hearing parents say they felt very good about helping their kid go to college and reach their dreams, it was very inspiring.

And, it highlighted some of the gaps of our program, specifically around the need to work with parents more. One takeaway for us was the need to really focus on supporting and engaging parents.

Will this film be helpful to the MS CSA Program? If so, how?

It is already having a positive effect – others in our community now want to be involved. Other early childhood development centers, Head Start programs and other partners want to help grow the Mississippi College Savings Account Program, or are using our program as a potential model to replicate. Also, we are going to use the segment as a way of telling our story, and how child savings programs can really energize kids and their parents.

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Housing Cost Burden on the Rise, Especially Among Renters

By Center for Housing Policy on 05/13/2013 @ 04:30 PM

Tags: Housing and Homeownership

Image courtesy of Center for Housing Policy, National Housing Conference

The newest edition of the Center for Housing Policy (CHP)'s annual Housing Landscape report finds that severe housing cost burdens among working renter households have risen for the third consecutive year. Housing Landscape 2013 explores the latest American Community Survey data from 2011, showing that 26.4 percent of working renters spent more than half of household income on housing costs. While severe housing cost burdens stayed relatively stable for working homeowners between 2008 and 2011, roughly one in five working homeowners experienced severe housing affordability challenges throughout this period -- despite falling home prices and mortgage interest rates.

CHP, the research affiliate of the Washington-based advocacy group the National Housing Conference (NHC), charts the trends in housing cost burdens among working households from 2008 to 2011 in the latest edition of Housing Landscape. In addition to housing costs and income, the new report includes housing cost burden data from the 50 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report defines a working household as one with an income less than 120 percent of the median for its area, and with members working at least 20 hours per week on average.

The share of working renter households with a severe housing cost burden grew over the three-year period due primarily to falling incomes and rising rental housing costs. Nationally, working renters saw their housing costs rise by 6 percent from 2008 to 2011, while their household incomes fell more than 3 percent. Lead report author Janet Viveiros says renters are stretched so thin by growing housing costs that many face impossible choices.

"The growing rate of severe housing cost burdens among renters is not a new trend, but it is clearly an unsustainable one," said Viveiros. "While rental costs have steadily risen over the last few years, wages for these working families have not fully recovered from the hit they took between 2008 and 2009. Spending most of your paycheck on rent means cutting back on other necessities, including healthcare and even food."

Co-author Maya Brennan noted that the causes of rising housing cost burdens among working renters include a difficult economy and an increased demand for rental housing, partly due to the crisis on the homeownership side of the market.

"While the economy pushed both owners' and renters' incomes down, the shift away from homeownership is pushing rents up due to increased demand. What we're seeing with the rental market is not explainable by population trends alone -- it clearly reflects the movement of former homeowners into rentals as well as delays in home purchases by current renters ," Brennan explained. "But this increase in rental demand has not been matched by an increase in supply. This imbalance leads to rising rents in markets across the country."

Working homeowners may have dodged the upswing in housing costs that hit renters, but they have not avoided the effects of falling incomes. In fact, while housing costs among homeowners fell some 3 percent over the study period, household incomes among these homeowners fell even more than they did for renters, down more than 4 percent over the three-year span. However, NHC President and CEO Chris Estes cautioned that a high and growing proportion of all working households -- renters and homeowners combined -- cannot afford their housing, and that little is being done to help.

"The challenge we face is that despite the range of successful tools to help offset this crisis, we are still in a long trend of flat -- and even slashed -- funding for these important programs," said Estes. Estes notes that a recent report from the Bipartisan Policy Center's Housing Commission highlighted the success of federal housing programs like HOME, the housing voucher and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and encouraged expanded funding for these programs to help respond to the housing affordability crisis.

Read the Housing Landscape 2013 report.

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Jennifer Vuich: On the Road to Financial Security

By Veronica Weis on 05/09/2013 @ 11:00 AM

Tags: Financial Empowerment

EDITOR'S NOTE: Thank you to the Real$ense Prosperity Campaign of the United Way of Northeast Florida for submitting this inspiring tax time story.

Jennifer Vuich moved from New York to Macclenny, Florida in May 2012. A single parent with twins, no means of transportation and limited job prospects, she found herself struggling.

At the Northeast Florida Community Action Agency in Baker County’s orientation for electric assistance, she found out about the Real$ense Prosperity Campaign. Jennifer had not filed her taxes the previous year because of the move and she lacked a W2. The Baker county NFCAA staff worked with her to obtain the W2 from her previous employer. They also provided additional help by filing her current and prior year tax returns. To her benefit, she was eligible and received the Earned Income Tax Credit. With this boost, she was able to buy a car and pay her childcare bill.

This newfound sense of stability and opportunity even inspired Jennifer to find stable employment to provide for her family. She is very grateful to NFCAA and the Real$ense Prosperity Campaign for their assistance. Thanks to their free tax preparation services, she and her family are now on the road to financial stability.

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Opinion: Bipartisan Bill Invests in Next Generation

By Mark Edwards, Guest Contributor and Andrea Levere on 05/08/2013 @ 10:00 AM

Tags: Children's Savings Accounts, Federal Policy, Matched Savings

Image courtesy of Politico.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally appeared on Politico and you can read it here.

Every 5-year-old wants a piggy bank to fill with the jangling pennies and nickels that hold the promise of dreams. But for children from low-income households, even filling a toy bank can be a challenge. That’s why both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill have come together to develop a plan that would help the youngest students learn the benefits of depositing their money in a real bank and saving for a future that includes college.

This week, Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will reintroduce the American Dream Accounts Act, which would create college savings accounts for low-income students and monitor higher education readiness through a personal online account. The proposal applies existing Department of Education dollars to encourage the development of online platforms that partner students with colleges, schools, nonprofits and businesses, and provide them with a savings account and college readiness tools.

If passed, the Coons-Rubio bill could be an important bipartisan catalyst for new children’s savings efforts nationwide, some of which are already taking shape at the state and local level. Last month, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, approved a measure that will provide all kindergarteners with $100 college savings accounts starting this fall. Similar initiatives are in the planning stages in Colorado and the Puget Sound area of Washington state. These efforts follow in the footsteps of San Francisco’s pioneering Kindergarten to College program, which provides a $50 deposit in a college savings account to every child entering kindergarten. Beyond the initial deposits, these programs seek to encourage families and friends to make regular contributions.

While the deposits may seem like mere pennies given the ballooning costs of a college education, more than a decade of research shows that even small amounts of savings can have a major impact on both college aspirations and attendance. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, for example, have found that children with college savings accounts in their own names are six times more likely to go to college than children who do not have an account.

As Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald put it at his program’s launch, “Every child in our area will grow up knowing that college is a real and attainable goal.”

The increasing interest in college savings accounts is an acknowledgment of today’s reality: College is indisputably a ticket up the economic ladder, but the soaring cost makes it out of reach for more and more families. According to the Brookings Institution and the Pew Economic Mobility Project, barely one in three children from the poorest fifth of families enrolls in college, and only about one in 10 graduates. By comparison, among the wealthiest fifth of families, four in five children go to college, and more than half (53 percent) graduate.

Children’s savings programs, which have the potential to offer big returns on relatively small investments, are a response with bipartisan appeal. Cuyahoga County’s program, for example, is expected to reach 15,000 students at an estimated cost of $2 million to $3 million a year. Moreover, funding to “seed” and “match” the accounts can come from private and philanthropic sources. The Corporation for Enterprise Development, for instance, recently launched the 1:1 Fund, which raises private dollars for the purpose of matching college savings by lower-income kids through an online platform.

We believe all sectors have a role to play in building strong ladders of opportunity for our children and youth, and that good jobs in our 21st-century economy often require a degree or credential beyond high school. Higher education is one important piece of a comprehensive approach that ensures every young person, regardless of that person’s ZIP code, has a shot at the American dream. With growing state and local interest in college savings accounts, policymakers should seek every chance to encourage their availability nationwide.

They can start by exempting education savings accounts from asset limits that could result in families losing access to much-needed federal benefits programs — a potentially powerful disincentive to save for their children’s future. They can also push for the integration of college savings accounts into existing programs, such as Head Start, and include a financial education component that helps both children and their parents understand the importance of saving for the future.

Finally, they should encourage innovative efforts like the Coons-Rubio legislation. In introducing the original bill last year, Coons posed a simple question: “How can we get more Americans to think about, save for and prepare for education after high school so that they can go to trade school, community college or four-year colleges or universities?” One answer: Give children their own savings account — and then help them fill it with hard cash and hope for the future through personal efforts and policy support.

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Thelma Small: Financial Education at Any Age

By Veronica Weis on 05/07/2013 @ 04:00 PM

Tags: Economic Inclusion, Federal Policy

Thelma Small with VITA volunteer tax preparer, Stephonie Holmes

EDITOR'S NOTE: Thank you to the Real$ense Prosperity Campaign of the United Way of Northeast Florida for submitting this inspiring tax time story.

This year, Thelma Small of Jacksonville, Florida attended a Super Saturday event held on March 2 by the Real$ense Prosperity Campaign of United Way of Northeast Florida. At 82 years young, Thelma is living proof that improving your financial education and participating in free tax preparation services can happen at any age.

Thelma got her taxes prepared by trained Real$ense volunteer, Stephonie Holmes, and attended a financial education workshop. She was also able to access her credit report through the event. The best part? All of the services were free and the whole process took just a couple of hours.

One of Thelma’s daughters has been using Real$ense for several years. She’s the one who encouraged her mother and sister to this year’s event. Real$ense has really turned into a family affair for Thelma and her daughters.

“Rosalind Brown helped me,” said Small. “I would definitely come back to Real$ense, it’s a great service. I got lots of great information and my taxes are done!”

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Asset-Building News Roundup - May 3, 2013

By Veronica Weis on 05/03/2013 @ 06:00 PM

Tags: Recommended Reading


Join us next Thursday in Washington, DC for "A Foot in the Door to the American Dream: A Forum on College Savings Accounts." This lunchtime policy forum is sponsored by CFED & Opportunity Nation. For more information, click here. Can't make it but still want to follow the conversation? We'll be tweeting with #CFEDforum.


Our friends at the Urban Institute released a powerful three-minute video this week explaining just how pervasive the growing racial wealth gap is. It uses CFED's findings in our Upside Down report to illustrate how, despite spending $400 billion on asset-building incentives, the federal government still fails to reach the populations who need support in building wealth and financial security.

Sean Reardon’s op-ed in this past Sunday’s New York Times,No Rich Child Left Behind,” takes a look at how and why educational success gaps between high- and low-income students has steadily increased over the past three decades. The 1:1 Fund's Executive Director, Carl Rist, shares his summary of the piece here.

From the Assets & Opportunity Network

United Way of Greater Houston has launched Tweet My Jobs, Houston a new citywide online jobs platform to help Houstonians find work using innovative technology to combine the popularity of social media and the convenience of a smart phone application. This free service already has more than 150,000 Houston job postings from entry level to senior level corporate positions. Tweet My Jobs, Houston is available at

United Way of Northeast Florida (Real$ense Prosperity Campaign) shared a great tax-time story about Thelma Small, 82 years old, who attended a March tax preparation services in Jacksonville with her daughter.

The Community Action Agency of Southern New Mexico recently published findings from a year-long study from a W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant to explore the feasibility of scaling asset building in rural Doña Ana County. Click here to read their research.

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It's the Economic Mobility, Stupid!

By ThinkProgress on 05/02/2013 @ 04:00 PM

Tags: Economic Inclusion, Recommended Reading

The conservative trickle-down approach to the economy assumes that maximizing rewards for those at the top is the path to both growth and prosperity for the society as a whole. If inequality rises, that does not matter, runs the conservative argument, because absolute levels of prosperity will rise for everyone even if the top gains more.

The progressive approach to the economy is radically different. This approach posits, based on a mass of accumulating evidence, that inequality is not a benign byproduct of growth, but rather a toxic barrier to both middle class prosperity and strong growth in general. In other words, high levels of inequality interfere with the both the quality and quantity of growth experienced by a society. Hence the idea that an economic agenda must concentrate on lifting up the middle class to generate both broadly-shared prosperity and fast growth. The two goals are inextricably linked and one cannot be attained without the other.

Of course, the progressive agenda may be the correct one, but that does not mean it can be easily sold to the public and politicians. It would require a serious reorientation of national priorities and considerable investments in areas like education and infrastructure–spending that is likely to meet considerable resistance in the current environment. Therefore, the question of how to frame the agenda in the political marketplace is key.

One obvious approach is to frame the agenda directly as a means of reducing inequality. Call this the redistributionist approach. This approach is not without merit. Start with awareness of and views about economic inequality.

There is no doubt Americans are aware of rising inequality. In the Pew Research Center’s 2012 American Values survey, respondents were asked if they agreed that today the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. About three-quarters (76 percent) agreed, while just 23 percent disagreed. And the public believes it’s not just the poor who are losing ground to the rich—it’s the middle class as well. In the same survey three-quarters (76 percent) also say the gap between the standards of living of the middle class and the rich grew over the last decade, compared to just 16 percent who think it narrowed.

No wonder that a poll from October 2011 conducted by Pulse Opinion Research for The Hill found that two in three Americans believe that the middle class is now shrinking. And in a Democracy Corps post-2010 election survey, the public endorsed the idea that America is no longer a country with a rising middle class by 57-36. Finally, an October, 2007 poll conducted by political scientists Benjamin Page and Lawrence Jacobs for their book, Class War: What Americans Really Think about Economic Inequality, found 81 percent of the public saying that the gap in wealth between wealthy Americans and the middle class has grown over the last 25 years, compared to just 10 percent who said it has remained the same and 8 percent who said it had gotten smaller.

Of course high awareness of inequality does not necessarily mean that Americans disapprove of it. But further data show that Americans’ high awareness of inequality is indeed matched by high levels of disapproval. For example, in a Pew poll in December, 2011, 61% said our economy unfairly favors wealthy Americans, while only 36% thought the system was “generally fair.” And in an ABC News/The Washington Post poll from January of this year, 55% of Americans said that economic unfairness that favors the wealthy is a bigger problem than overregulation by the government that hurts economic growth. Only 35% of respondents believed the latter was the bigger problem.

Moreover, in an October, 2011 nationwide survey conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the public expressed the following views:

  • 81 percent of those surveyed agreed that “Regular people work harder and harder for less and less, while Wall Street CEOs enjoy bigger bonuses than ever,”
  • 75 percent agreed that “Our economy works for Wall Street CEOs but not for the middle class. America isn’t supposed to only work for the top 1 percent”
  • 72 percent agreed that “right now, 99 percent of Americans only see the rich getting richer and everyone else getting crushed. And they’re right.”

In earlier data from the Page/Jacobs survey, 72 percent agreed that differences in income in America are too large, compared to only 27 percent who disagreed. And 59 percent disagreed that large differences in income are necessary for America’s prosperity. In an October 2008 Gallup poll, 58 percent thought money and wealth should be more evenly distributed among a larger percentage of the people, compared to 37 percent who thought it was fairly distributed.

None of these survey findings are idiosyncratic. Careful academic reviews of public opinion on inequality over time by sociologists Lane Kenworthy and Leslie McCall indicate that Americans have typically been aware of inequality, sensitive to its increase over time and generally disapprove of the levels it has reached on our society.

So, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the public is both aware of rising inequality and disapproves of it. Naturally enough, given these sentiments, the public would also like to see something done about this problem. In a November 2011 poll from the Public Religion Research Institute, 60 percent agreed that “our society would be better off if the distribution of wealth was more equal.” And 63 percent believed that “we need to dramatically reduce inequalities between rich and poor, whites and people of color and men and women.”

But it does not follow from all this–awareness, disapproval and the felt need for action–that the public would necessarily be happiest with a direct attack on inequality as implied by the redistributionist frame. On the contrary, in the February, 2009 Pew economic mobility survey, by an overwhelming 71-21 margin, respondents though it was more important to ensure everyone has a fair chance of improving their economic standing than to reduce inequality in America.

That preference for economic mobility over direct mitigation of inequality is also suggested by results of another question in the same survey. By 71-27, Americans agreed that greater economic inequality means that it is more difficult for those at the bottom of the ladder to move up the ladder. That is what Americans object to most vigorously about economic inequality: that it makes economic mobility more difficult. In other words, for most Americans what we have is not an inequality crisis but a mobility crisis. This is confirmed by results of a recent series of focus groups on inequality conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. Participants tended not to connect their economic difficulties with wealth and income inequality but bemoaned, more than anything else, the rising cost of middle class expenses like housing, transportation, medical care and college relative to lagging wages and salaries. This middle class squeeze, which prevents them from moving ahead in life, is what primarily concerns them.

The mobility crisis touches something very, very important to Americans. Americans retain a deep faith in their personal ability to get ahead even in adverse circumstances, provided they have a fair opportunity to do so. Here are some results from a survey I helped conduct for the Economic Policy Institute in March, 2006. That poll found that 69% thought they had already attained the American Dream or would attain it in their lifetimes (note: this figure was actually higher–75%–in a CAP poll conducted in February, 2009 after the financial crisis had hit). And while 60% rated themselves between poor and middle class now on a 10 point economic scale (1-5), 59% said they would be between middle class and wealthy (6 to 10) within 10 years. Finally, while 80% described themselves as working class, middle class, or lower class today, 44% believed it was very or somewhat likely that they would become wealthy in the future.

This personal optimism can and does co-exist with negative views about the overall state of the economy. In the EPI poll, respondents were asked whether economic uncertainty and inequality or success in achieving the American Dream characterizes the economy today. Here is the choice posed by the question:

  • Most people today face increasing uncertainty about employment, with stagnant incomes, paying more for health care, taxes, and retirement, while those at the top have booming incomes and lower taxes


  • Our economy faces ups and downs, but most people can expect to better themselves, see rising incomes, find good jobs and provide economic security for their families. The American dream is very much alive.

By 2:1 (64%-32%), respondents selected the first statement about increasing uncertainty as coming closer to their views. But of that group that said that increasing uncertainty, rather than achieving the American Dream, characterized the economy, an amazing 63% nevertheless thought that they themselves would achieve the Dream.

This personal optimism and aspirational outlook is broadly shared across social groups. For example, 69% of the white working class and 74 % of the white middle class believed they have reached or will reach the American Dream, as did 67% of women, 72% of men, 66% of blacks, and 74% of Hispanics (blacks and Hispanics were less likely than whites to believe they had already attained the Dream, but made up for it by being more likely to believe they will attain it in the future).

This aspirational outlook helps explain a stunning finding from the Page/Jacobs survey. A whopping 97 percent agreed (including 85 percent who strongly agreed) that everyone in America should have equal opportunities to get ahead. This is as close to a consensual viewpoint as you find in American public opinion, suggesting the power of a mobility, rather than redistributionist, frame for the progressive economic agenda.

The mobility frame has a strong connection in the public mind to the need for government action. In the 2011 Pew economic mobility survey, an overwhelming 83 percent said they wanted the government to either provide opportunities for the poor and middle class to improve their economic situation or prevent them from falling behind or both. In the same survey, education, a central part of the progressive economic agenda, loomed especially large as a way the government should help provide those opportunities. Ensuring all children get a quality education was rated the highest among options to help people get ahead (88 percent rated it as one of the most important/very important). And improving the quality of elementary and secondary education and making college more affordable were two of the top four options for preventing downward mobility (84 and 80 percent, respectively, one of the most effective/very effective).

Other options that rated highly in this or the 2009 Pew economic mobility survey included promoting job creation, providing basic needs to the very poor, reducing the costs of health care, helping small businesses and business owners, more job training programs and education for adult workers, making it easier to save for retirement and early childhood learning programs. All these mobility-promoting steps are central, of course, to the progressive economic agenda.

In conclusion, the mobility frame lends itself to an “aspirational populism” that makes explicit the argument that current levels of inequality are not just unfair but directly interfere with mobility and economic growth. Not only is there a growing body of economic evidence for the argument but it accords well with the common sense of voters. And perhaps the common sense of an increasing number of politicians. As the President himself has remarked (April, 2012 speech in Florida):

"In this country, prosperity has never trickled down from the wealthy few. Prosperity has always come from the bottom up, from a strong and growing middle class. That’s how a generation who went to college on the GI Bill — including my grandfather — helped build the most prosperous economy that the world has ever known. That’s why a CEO like Henry Ford made a point to pay his workers enough money so that they could buy the cars that they were building. Because he understood, look, there’s no point in me having all this and then nobody can buy my cars. I’ve got to pay my workers enough so that they buy the cars, and that in turn creates more business and more prosperity for everybody."

That about says it all.

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