Assets Count, in Kansas City, too

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Family Assets Count is an effort by CFED, in partnership with Citi Community Development, to draw attention to the fact that almost half (45%) of households in major U.S. cities are financially vulnerable. Many are low-income, and they lack the asset foundation that would protect them from fringe financial services in the event of an emergency, allow them to plan to finance their goals, and provide a path up the ladder of economic mobility. The project leverages the Assets and Opportunity Scorecard's sophisticated data visualization to illustrate local data on asset poverty, liquid asset poverty, and the percentage of the population unbanked/underbanked. Family Assets Count will also work in 10 cities during this initial phase, to inform policies and programs to combat asset poverty and the financial vulnerability it causes.

While the Kansas City Metropolitan Statistical Area isn't one of the 10 identified to start, AEDI is working with partners in and around Kansas City to learn more and, we hope, help to address these dynamics in our own backyard. I was recently asked to participate in the United Way of Greater Kansas City's Income Impact Council, and, when I accepted, I smilingly warned that I'm interested in moving the conversation about economic security in Kansas City beyond income, to talk about saving, financial inclusion, and the powerful effects of assets on children's well-being and families' mobility prospects.

I don't think they were surprised.

What we're learning is that, while asset poverty is a problem in nearly every corner of the country, particularly wherever individuals don't make enough to have 'extra' to set aside, some communities are making inroads by changing the culture and the context in which financial decisions are made--and the systems that provide the opportunities for them to be exercised. This includes efforts to provide free income tax preparation and divert some of a household's refunds to saving; offerings for incentivized savings programs; policies that require that employers provide retirement savings and other investments; vigorous enforcement of financial regulations; and policies to support growth in the value of property investments.

Communities that don't make similar provisions--or, worse, that don't even attend to asset poverty as a dimension of a family's economic experience--imperil their financial futures.

I'm eager to use the tools from the Family Assets Count project to inform some of our work in Kansas City and honored to be asked to be part of this work in the place I call home. As we bring together different sectors to take a hard look at families' holdings, we'll take stock of their capacity to thrive.

Because, here as elsewhere, assets do count.

 
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