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The Assets Report 2012

An Assessment of the Federal “Asset-Building” Budget
April 11, 2012 |
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The Assets Report 2012 is an annual analysis of federal support for asset building policies. Click here to view the accompanying infographic.

While the recovery from the Great Recession appears be taking hold, economic hardship remains pervasive. Poverty is still on the rise and many families feel that the forces of recession have displaced them from the middle class. As the Presidential election year unfolds, these cyclical and entrenched threats to financial security provide a backdrop to public debates. Expanding opportunities for upward mobility has become a common call. While there is a marked divergence in policy prescriptions, the spotlight remains focused on the American Dream, what it takes to achieve it, and the role of government in that process.

Typically, we think of “success” as being able to raise a family, educate our children, buy a home, start a business, and live securely in our retirement years. While these objectives may change over time and vary by individual, being able to save and accumulate assets is an essential foundation for success. In the near term, even modest amounts of savings can help families remain financially stable when the unexpected occurs. Over time, these resources can be invested productively in ways that promote economic mobility and well-being. It is the mobility and resiliency features of savings and assets that justify the wide range of federal policies and programs intended to promote their accumulation. In our calculations, direct spending programs and policies that are embedded in the tax code together account for $548 billion in pro-savings and asset building resources for fiscal year 2013.

The Assets Report 2012 Data Visualization site tells the story of how American families benefit from current federal asset spending. Click here to learn more.

Given the scale of these commitments and the importance of their objectives, these policies deserve close scrutiny to insure that these investments are achieving their intended outcomes. Our assessment of prevailing policy, however, reveals several fundamental inequities. The poorest Americans, who have traditionally had the most difficulty saving and for whom appropriate interventions would have the greatest impact, are instead offered less accessible or meaningful ways to accumulate assets compared to middle- and upper-income families. This approach misses the potential of assets to help chart a path out of poverty. If we are to broaden savings and asset ownership successfully—giving everyone a stake in the common-wealth—we must understand how the federal government’s current policy paradigm affects asset building among low- and moderate-income Americans. In that pursuit, we present in this Assets Report 2012 a survey of the current landscape of federal asset-building programs that provide the opportunities for individuals and families to climb the economic ladder.

Click here to read the full paper. You can learn more about the impact of federal spending on American families and policy recommendations that could improve this outlook at The Assets Report Infographic.

As in past years, the budget continues to allocate a large amount of resources to policies that help families accumulate resources and build wealth. Most of these, however, disproportionately benefit higher-income earners. Missing are proposals that would create new ways to support the upward mobility of those starting on the lower rungs of the ladder.

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