Expanding the Pie

Neighborhood Partnerships staff is in Washington DC attending the CFED Assets Learning Conference.  We were also fortunate to attend a pre-conference session for State & Local Assets Coalitions.  This pre-conference session was attended by 43 state asset coalitions and over 30 local asset coalitions.  Both on days one and two, attendees were challenged to help CFED build a movement in this country to expand economic opportunities for all Americans.

At the end of day one, attendees were asked to respond about how we view asset building as part of a larger social movement, its strengths and weaknesses, and what we need from partners, national organizations, researchers and funders in the coming years to create opportunity for all Americans.

The discussion continued on day two, with a panel discussion on the role of government, state coalitions, foundations and national intermediaries in the asset building movement.  Robert Friedman, Founder and Chair of CFED presented state and local asset coalition partners with three opportunities he sees on the horizon:

  1. This is a federal moment for the asset building movement.  The financial crisis has presented an opportunity where more than ever before, Americans are interested in saving and our leaders are interested in encouraging saving and investing.  Legislation to expand the savers credit to fifty million low income families (sponsored by our own Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Oregon District 3) is within our reach as are other asset building proposals. We need to take advantage of this opportunity.
  2. The money we spend on asset building at the federal level is upside down—each year the federal government spends nearly $400 billion every year on asset building activity through tax benefits and credits—but most of it is for the wealthiest Americans.  CFED’s recently released report Upside Down highlights the opportunity to simply reprioritize a small portion of this asset building budget which could significantly and positively impact very-low , low and moderate income Americans.
  3. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, the asset building agenda addresses the major problems this country is currently facing.  Asset building can create long term economic stability, access to opportunity and a true and stable middle class, and we can expand the pie in an “old fashioned” American way—though enterprise, saving and investment.

Most importantly, Mr. Friedman talked to the group about how this work is work that should appeal to all Americans. It expands opportunity for all Americans.  It develops businesses and promotes entrepreneurship.  It promotes the American Dream.   We have a history in this country of intentionally implementing policies that have helped over time to create a middle class, including the GI Bill, and the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction.  While these policies historically have not been open to all Americans—especially people of color—we can now implement intentional policies that positively impact everyone.   Mr. Friedman is right—this is the moment for the asset building movement. It’s time to create economic opportunity for all Americans.