This impromptu series grapples with issues derailing America from being able to tackle its economic inequality problem. The first paper (which probably should have been the last paper in the series, but that is why this is impromptu which is a nice way to say I did not start off planning a three paper series) deals with issues that stand in the way of the asset field specifically, but the poverty field more generally, uniting in the fight against economic inequality. The second paper pulls back the curtain on narratives that have shaped Americans’ views on the importance of wealth transfers for sustaining the ideal captured in the American dream. The third paper will dive directly into the unique issue of race in America as it relates to economic inequality. The objective of this series is to start a productive conversation on passing meaningful wealth transfer legislation that has the potential to greatly reduce economic inequality in America. Such legislation is not only important for American families, but is a way to strengthen America from both internal and external threats to its democracy. The existence of high levels of economic inequality are a direct threat to the survival of America and demand that we declare war on it today.
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Professor William Elliott’s opinion article in the Gotham Gazette argues that poor children and families need both poverty alleviation and child savings programs. Elliott writes, “I am arguing that the drive Americans have demonstrated throughout history comes from more than having enough money to pay the bills each week, it comes from the promise of a better future.”
Child Development Accounts (CDAs)—also called Child Savings Accounts (CSAs)—provide assets and encourage saving and asset building for children. (See the accompanying document, The Case for a Nationwide Child Development Account Policy.) An efficient, trusted, and sustainable system for delivering CDAs is already being implemented in some states. A nationwide policy would require federal funding and changes in policy and practice to deliver CDAs for all children with a seed deposit as early as birth.
Research shows that CDAs have positive effects on asset building and healthy child and family development, with greater effects for people of color and low-income households. Asset building over time is the key to these results. Positive effects for children and families occur even before the money is spent for education.
Investing in children is fundamental for families, communities, and the U.S. economy. Child Development Accounts (CDAs), also called Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs), offer a proven and efficient model for investing in all children.
The Community Foundation of Wabash County’s Promise Scholarship program (Promise Scholars) was conceived and implemented with the goal of improving educational outcomes by providing opportunities to earn scholarship awards at a much earlier stage than traditional scholarship programs. More than just a commitment, deposits are awarded directly into the child’s 529 as they are earned. This approach deviates in important ways from traditional college savings account programs, traditional scholarship programs, and even early commitment scholarship programs. In Promise Scholars, children not only receive a CSA, but they also receive early award scholarships directly, and immediately, rather than as the promise of money in the future.
This report provides an update to 2017 Participation and Savings Patterns in the Wabash County Promise Scholarship Program: Year 1 (O’Brien, Elliott, Lewis & Jung, 2018). The initial 2017 report included all 4th - 8th graders in Wabash County during the 2016-2017 academic year, which also served as the first year of the Wabash County Promise Scholars program. Accumulated savings in Promise Indiana 529s, Promise Scholarship awards and match, and free/reduced lunch status provided by the schools were used to obtain a cross-sectional view of the impact of the first program year. For the current report, we examine enrollment, savings behaviors, and asset accumulation for participants who enrolled in Promise Scholars during the first three academic years of the program: 2016/2017, 2017/2018, and 2018/2019. As with the first report, we include scholarship earnings, 529 savings data to date, as well as free/reduced lunch status provided by the schools to compare savings outcomes across program participants and non-participants and across poor and non-poor families.
Education is one of the largest investments America makes in reducing poverty and promoting economic mobility. From this perspective, education is perceived by many as a long-term strategy for achieving individual, family, and intergenerational prosperity; a tool for increasing overall productivity; and an engine of economic growth on which our collective fortunes depend. However, like poverty policies in America, education policies have largely focused on providing children with enough financial aid to survive, not enough to thrive. This brief will argue that to deliver on the promise of money, we posit that a better notion of free is to provide low-income and underserved students with targeted ongoing deposits into a Children’s Savings Account from an early age. Further, we should consider integrating this long-term strategy with a long-term education investment, like College Promise (frequently referred to as “free college”) programs, to reverse this damaging trend, build a college going culture within families and their communities, and remove economic barriers to higher education and adult success.
We should not lose sight of moments in our collective history when we, as a country, have dared to dream and, as a result, were able to leap forward. The race to the moon was just such a moment, when we were “pushed” by the Soviet Union’s early advantage in the “space race” to unshackle ourselves from our limited imagination and as a result developed new technology to explore space. The U.S. foster care system needs a similar push to move away from an exclusive focus on survival policies for foster care youth and move toward including an asset-empowered agenda that can provide youth in foster care with the opportunity to thrive. This report looks at adapting CSAs to work better for Foster Care Youth.
This study conducted two cluster randomized trials using household-level random assignment to test the impact of a rewards cards program at two different locations: Wabash County Indiana and the City of St. Louis. Findings show the treatment group in Indiana had a greater than three-fold increase in savings activity in CSAs, and in St Louis had a greater than seven-fold increase in savings activity in CSAs. These findings suggest that rewards cards can be an effective strategy for engaging families of different backgrounds in saving activities.
Information about the nature and extent of wealth inequality among Whites can play a role in eliminating misconceptions and reframing the discussion about wealth redistribution as essential to restoring hope in the American dream and imperative to improving the life chances of all. Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, we find that the top quintile of White wealth holders has 212 times as much wealth as the bottom quintile. Further, multi-dimensional descriptive analyses from 1999 to 2015 indicate that median wealth has increased 46% among White households in the top 20% of both the wealth and income distributions. During the same time period, wealth holdings decreased among White household in the bottom 20% of both economic distributions. These data suggest that wealth inequality is a problem not only for Black households in America, but for White households as well. Thus, wealth inequality is not just a question of discrimination and racial disadvantage but is rooted in the fundamental nature of the American economy.
Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs) are interventions that seek to build assets for children to use as longterm investments (Goldberg, 2005; Sherraden, 1991), particularly for postsecondary education. Provided through financial institutions, CSAs generally include progressive features, such as initial seed deposits, financial incentives for attaining certain academic benchmarks, or matches for savings deposits (e.g., Elliott & Lewis, 2014). Distinct among financial aid policies for their cultivation of improved outcomes throughout children’s lives, CSAs aim to equip children, particularly those who are disadvantaged, with assets that have demonstrated associations with academic achievement (Elliott, Kite, O’Brien, Lewis, & Palmer, 2016) and educational attainment (Elliott, 2013; Elliott & Beverly, 2011). CSAs also connect households to mainstream financial institutions (Friedline, 2014), activating families to save for their children’s futures and their later financial well-being.
San Francisco’s Kindergarten-to-College (K2C) is a Children’s Savings Account (CSA) program that provides a savings account to all kindergartners in the public school system to save for postsecondary education. This study is the first analysis of families’ contributions to the K2C accounts and how those contributions vary by student characteristic and school context. Following a review of existing research regarding college saving by American families in general and, specifically, by those participating in other CSA programs, this study examines contributions as one manifestation of families’ engagement with the K2C accounts. In addition, the study explores how the particular features of the K2C program manifest in asset accumulation and contribution activity, as well as how individual and school-level characteristics may influence observed interactions with the K2C accounts. This research provides insights into a CSA program that is the oldest and one of the largest in the country, and it offers lessons for policymakers and CSA administrators considering interventions to encourage college saving among families with school-age children.
New This report provides a preliminary descriptive examination of aspects of Maine’s Harold Alfond College Challenge (HACC) Children’s Savings Account (CSA) Program1. Specifically, the Center on Assets, Education, and Inclusion (AEDI) uses data provided by the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME) for NextGen College Investing Plan, Maine’s 529 college savings plan (NextGen or Next College Investing Plan) accounts opened as part of the HACC pilot in 2008 and the statewide opt-in CSA program in 2009-2013 to consider how account opening and family contribution differ by family income and across time, as well as how family saving and HACC features contribute to asset accumulation by these households.
This report is the first product of a research partnership between the Alfond Scholarship Foundation and AEDI. Future research will center on more rigorous analysis of the savings data described here, as well as examination of outcomes for children enrolled after the Harold Alfond College Challenge shifted in March 2014 to automatically award the $500 Alfond Grant to all children born Maine residents, rather than requiring families to first open a NextGen account. Additional research will also include qualitative consideration of families’ experiences with the HACC and planned surveys to assess effects on academic achievement, college-saver identity development, and educational expectations in both the opt-in and current, opt-out, iterations of the HACC. Given the prominence of the Harold Alfond College Challenge in the CSA field, considering how Maine’s CSA is affecting financial and other preparation for college and how those effects may transform children’s outcomes may have important policy implications.
This report examines enrollment, savings behaviors, and asset accumulation in the Wabash County Promise Scholarships program, which deposits early-commitment scholarship awards into children’s college savings accounts, in an effort to improve educational outcomes. The rationale for the Wabash County Promise Scholarships is rooted in research evidence examining the potential of early accumulation of educational assets to cultivate identities as college savers and increase educational expectations. This evidence has contributed to a growing trend among scholarship providers to consider ways to deliver awards early enough in students’ educational trajectories to influence not just the affordability of postsecondary education, but also students’ likelihood of enrolling in college and completing postsecondary credentials. One particular iteration of these efforts is the melding of ‘Promise’ programs or other early-commitment scholarships with Children’s Savings Account (CSA) programs that help families accumulate educational assets through incentivizing their own saving and amplifying families’ contributions with programmatic features (Elliott & Levere, 2017). Early-commitment scholarships provide early notification, guarantee, and/or delivery of financial aid to help offset the costs of postsecondary studies or training. The Wabash County Promise Scholarships program is an example of early-commitment financial aid that leverages the potential of both approaches.
New Mexico’s Prosperity Kids Children’s Savings Account (CSA) program provides incentives, financial education, and peer support to encourage participants, most of whom are relatively low-income Latino families, to save for their children’s futures. Nonprofit Prosperity Works leverages social networks and community partnerships in the Albuquerque, New Mexico area to recruit accountholders. While the particular features are somewhat unique to this model, Prosperity Kids evidences the hallmarks of Children’s Savings Account policy: initial seed deposits, facilitated or universal account opening, savings incentives, and long-term asset ownership (Goldberg, 2005; Sherraden, 1991). Those who open Prosperity Kids CSAs receive a $100 initial seed deposit and up to $200 in a 1:1 match for their savings per year, over ten years.1 Parents may also earn benchmark deposits for completing activities associated with child development and academic achievement. As is the case in many CSA programs, these incentives are financed with a mix of philanthropic and public dollars. Prosperity Kids accounts are custodial, held by Prosperity Works until used for postsecondary education or, when the child turns 23, for ‘transition to a stable adulthood’, such as homeownership or entrepreneurship.
This study examines patterns in 529 college savings plan account opening, family contributions, and asset accumulation by participants in the Promise Indiana Children’s Savings Account (CSA) program who are enrolled from Wabash County, Indiana1. While this report uses administrative data to focus on saving, savings outcomes represent only one metric of CSA “success.” Importantly, rigorous research suggests that the positive effects of CSAs on such outcomes as educational expectations (Kim, Sherraden, Huang, & Clancy, 2015) and children’s well-being (Huang, Sherraden, Kim, & Clancy, 2014) can be realized even if families are not contributing to the account (Sherraden et al., 2015). Indeed, the Promise Indiana design incorporates research evidence that simply having a CSA can catalyze other positive outcomes for children and families, including by reinforcing children’s sense of a college-saver identity (Elliott, 2013a). Many aspects of the Promise Indiana CSA initiative are designed to cultivate these effects and, as described below, are provided to all children within a participating school, whether or not their families have opened a 529 account or, certainly, begun to contribute. Therefore, the potential value of a CSA—including those offered through Promise Indiana—should not be viewed only in terms of the dollars in the account, and saving should not be considered the only worthwhile interaction with the CSA. At the same time, contributing to a Children’s Savings Account may be one way that expectations of college are communicated to children. Additionally, saving is a potentially significant source of asset accumulation for higher education and can help to provide a sound financial foundation for a child’s future. As such, analysis such as this adds to the growing body of evidence of CSAs’ effects on children and families. Importantly, direct comparisons to these measures in other CSA programs is complicated by acute differences in target populations, program design, and the savings context. However, to contextualize these findings, a review of account opening, saving, and asset accumulation findings from the CSA field can be found in earlier AEDI reports (e.g. Lewis et al., 2016; Lewis, O’Brien, & Elliott, 2017).