Assets for the Poor shows how institutional mechanisms designed to encourage acquisition of capital and property favor middle-class and high-income families. For example, the aggregate value of home mortgage tax deductions far outweighs the dollar amount of the subsidies provided by Section 8 rental vouchers and public housing. Banking definitions of creditworthiness largely exclude minorities, and welfare rules have made it nearly impossible for single mothers to accumulate savings, let alone stocks or real estate. Due to persistent residential segregation, even those minority families who do own homes are often denied equal access to better schools and public services.
The research in this volume shows that the poor do make use of the assets they have. Cash gifts—although small in size—are frequent within families and often lead to such positive results as homebuying and debt reduction, while tangible assets such as tools and cars help increase employment prospects. Assets for the Poor examines policies such as Individual Development Account tax subsidies to reward financial savings among the poor, and more liberal credit rules to make borrowing easier and less costly. The contributors also offer thoughtful advice for bringing the poor into mainstream savings institutions and warn against developing asset building policies at the expense of existing safety net programs.
Asset-building for low-income families is a powerful idea that offers hope to families searching for a way out of poverty. Assets for the Poor challenges current thinking regarding poverty reduction policies and proposes a major shift in the way we think about families and how they make a better life.
A Volume in the Ford Foundation Series on Asset Building
"This is one of the most thought-provoking books I have read on economic inequality in the US."--William Julius Wilson
Since the Great Recession, most Americans' standard of living has stagnated or declined. Economic inequality is at historic highs. But inequality's impact differs by race; African Americans' net wealth is just a tenth that of white Americans, and over recent decades, white families have accumulated wealth at three times the rate of black families. In our increasingly diverse nation, sociologist Thomas M. Shapiro argues, wealth disparities must be understood in tandem with racial inequities--a dangerous combination he terms "toxic inequality."
In Toxic Inequality, Shapiro reveals how these forces combine to trap families in place. Following nearly two hundred families of different races and income levels over a period of twelve years, Shapiro's research vividly documents the recession's toll on parents and children, the ways families use assets to manage crises and create opportunities, and the real reasons some families build wealth while others struggle in poverty. The structure of our neighborhoods, workplaces, and tax code-much more than individual choices-push some forward and hold others back. A lack of assets, far more common in families of color, can often ruin parents' careful plans for themselves and their children.
Toxic inequality may seem inexorable, but it is not inevitable. America's growing wealth gap and its yawning racial divide have been forged by history and preserved by policy, and only bold, race-conscious reforms can move us toward a more just society.