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The Ladder

A Blog from New America's Asset Building Program

Michael Gerson to Congress "You Should Listen to New America."

Published:  July 29, 2011

Michael Gerson has an op-ed in the Post today decrying the way that the debt ceiling debate has crowded out discussion of more important topics, namely the recent Pew Research Center report on rising wealth inequality in the US.

While leveling both barrels at Congress, Mr. Gerson takes time out to say a few kind words about our work:

At its best, liberalism has been about something more than making a progressive tax code slightly more progressive. It brought equal opportunity to the forefront of American politics...Few liberals talk like that today, though the flame still flickers in places such as the Asset Building Program at the New America Foundation, where Ray Boshara has conducted his long campaign to address the wealth gap. This challenge does not lack for proposed responses, including subsidies for savings, the promotion of financial education and increased access to financial services.

Again, that's very kind and he's right. We've focused on this issue for a long time, proposed a variety of policies to try and conquer this growing problem and have a track record of doing that in a bipartisan way. We hosted Tim Noah from Slate to talk about his work on inquality last year. You can look at Terri Friedline's recent blog post on the Pew Report. Reid Cramer took the Washington Post to task for focusing on income inequality as opposed to the better, broader measure of wealth inequality back in June. This has been a major issue in the US for a long time and a focus of our program since the earliest days.

However, we aren't alone in this, not even close. As Terri's post points out you should look at the work of Melvin Oliver and Tom Shapiro at the Institute for Assets and Social Policy if you want to understand the background of the new Pew report. Pam Chan and Karrie Peterson highlighted the good work of The Insight Center and their Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Initiative--including a new report, Diverging Pathwaysthat looked not only at the racial wealth gap, but the impact on children. There are a lot of people that are invested in examining and trying to do something about the racial wealth gap.

What to do? If you really want to address the wealth gap you need to start early, and that's why Children's Savings Accounts and the ASPIRE Act have always been so central to our work, there's a pretty broad coalition of groups and organizations that are in favor of that approach and a bipartisan legislative history to boot. You could create a retirement system that would include everyone and not just the top 50% of wage earners; that comes out of joint work from good people at Brookings and Heritage. There's a broad agenda of steps, developed by organizations and people too numerous to name, that could be taken to address this issue over the entire life course.

Mr. Gerson concludes,

In normal times, a worsening social problem like the wealth gap might unite creative liberals and compassionate conservatives in an unlikely policy alliance. Meetings would take place at the New America Foundation. Bipartisan legislation would be introduced.

It is a Washington I can remember — but now seems impossibly distant.

There's a lot of truth in what he says. There's a strong partisan atmosphere up on Capitol Hill and it has stunted efforts to address big social problems.

We're still here though. We still care about the racial wealth gap, and I know we're not alone. Anybody want to have a meeting?

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