Connecting Asset Building and Community Development

William Schweke

Assets create opportunity. Assets create mobility. Assets create economic security and community renewal. Asset-building strategies hold a key to diminishing poverty for millions of economically disadvantaged Americans. Assets contribute to financial security by providing a hedge against downward fluctuations in income, a fund for extraordinary expenses, savings for a child's college fund, and refuge during retirement.

Assets, like development and freedom in Nobel laureate Amartya Sen's framework, are both ends and means. Asset ownership through expanded savings, educational attainment, home ownership, and entrepreneurship are clear indicators of the level of development for individuals, families, communities, states, and the nation. Less recognized but perhaps even more important, savings and assets provide a platform, inspiration, and investment for economic progress.

More conscious, efficient, and equitable public policies would open up asset ownership to all. The goals of such policies would include (1) helping the working poor to achieve a more comfortable and stable socioeconomic position, (2) strengthening the middle class in a time of greater insecurity and economic turmoil, and (3) helping to transform communities caught in cycles of poverty, middle-class flight, high unemployment, and despair. This chapter makes the case for such policies by

1. Acquainting community and economic development professionals and policymakers with basic knowledge about asset-building research, programs, and policies.

2. Exposing asset experts and policymakers to fundamental community development and economic development strategies.

3. Demonstrating that not only are asset-building policies compatible with job creation and income growth, they are vital parts of the development dynamic.

4. Showing the substantial staying power, political virtues, and resonance of asset-building strategies in American culture.

5. Describing the roles that asset building and protection play in raising economic mobility for the poor, strengthening the middle class, broadening the ownership of wealth, and renewing economically struggling communities.

At the start, the chapter defines assets, asserts why they matter, offers a snapshot of asset policy and history in America, and provides evidence for enlarged asset building and protection policy government. Then the prerequisites of upward mobility and the role of community development in economic renewal are discussed. The chapter explains the practice of community-based economic development and describes its connections to asset-building programs and policies. Finally, a federal and state agenda to broaden asset ownership and renew struggling communities is proposed.[1]

  • [1] Even though I may have made a mess out of their work, there is hardly an original thought in this paper: my thanks go to Bob Friedman, Ray Boshara and his team, Alan Okagaki, Bill Noftdurth, Michael Sherraden and his team, Beadsie Woo, Dave Buchholz, Roger Vaughan, Michael Kieschnick, and many others. Thanks also to Nancy, Jerome, Will, Nathan, and Lucy for putting up with me.
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