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The Ladder

A Blog from New America's Asset Building Program

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The Asset Building News Week is a weekly Friday feature on The Ladder, the Asset Building Program blog, designed to help readers keep up with news and developments in the asset building field. This week's topics include housing, women in poverty, access to public assistance, banking, student loan debt and inequality.


The uncertainty of the housing market has led to a decline in homeownership rates. In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports, the number of homeowners is at the lowest level in 20 years and the demand for rental housing is on the rise. However, TIME reports on a survey done by Coldwell Banker Real Estate that finds 85% of Americans “always dreamed of owning a home” (perhaps not surprising findings from a company that sells real estate, but so be it). Indeed, MSNBC reports that “a growing number of Americans are getting back into the housing market, even though they went through a foreclosure, bankruptcy or short sale in recent years.” HUD has been conducting research on the best ways to help homeowners stay in their homes and has two new reports out that show that housing counseling can significantly improve the likelihood homeowners remained in their homes. The Sacramento Bee reports on another potentially successful strategy: Homeownership Centers. Some are bank-run while others are operated by non-profits. They serve as a resource to people who are facing foreclosure: helping identify realistic courses of action and navigating the “horrendous reams of paperwork.” The Huffington Post reports on mounting disappointment among consumer advocates that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau won’t address the existing problems with mortgage servicing. The article explains that “the proposed servicing rules would prevent homeowners ‘from being hit by costly surprises or getting the runaround from their mortgage servicer,’ the CFPB said.”

Women in Poverty

The Center for American Progress takes a look at several pressing challenges facing single mothers living in poverty. Matt Yglesias comments on the latest research on teen pregnancy rates, which finds a correlation between teenage childbearing and high levels of inequality. The new paper suggests there is a link between teens’ views of their opportunities to climb the economic ladder and their decisions about pregnancy at a young age.

Access to Public Assistance

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a piece about the prevalence of people with PhDs living on food stamps and welfare. One of the major challenges highly-educated people are facing is coming face to face with stereotypes about who receives public assistance. One PhD candidate receiving WIC, food stamps and Medicaid explains: "living on the dole is excruciatingly embarrassing and a constant reminder that I must have done something terribly wrong along the way to deserve this fate." The perception that public benefits recipients have made poor decisions accounts in part for the rise in legislative barriers to receiving assistance. For example, Oklahoma is one of a cadre of states seeking to impose a drug test on welfare applicants. Meanwhile, New York State has lifted a requirement that forces food stamp applicants to be finger printed, a move that “will simplify the application process and remove a significant barrier to reducing hunger among the State’s children and adults.” PBS reports on the 5 million Americans who have been looking for work for more than six months. The Center for Law and Social Policy has a new report out about the importance of modernizing and improving public benefits systems through technology, information sharing, and cutting administrative costs.


The Kennebec Journal reports on banks’ initiatives in Maine to attract low-income consumers. Banks there are experimenting with low-cost check cashing, free money orders, and low minimum deposits for checking accounts to attract new customers. Meanwhile, the city of San Jose, California is implementing payday lending restrictions to reduce the number of payday lenders in low income areas. The Bellingham Herald reports on both arguments for and against the restrictions. There certainly isn’t an easy answer. USA Today reports that the recession contributed to a rise in debt and a drop in savings.  Research from the University of Michigan shows that “one out of five families owes more on credit cards, medical bills, student loans and other unsecured debt than they have in savings.” Given pervasive financial challenges, Millennials are increasingly seeking out alternatives to mainstream banking, such as prepaid cards. Meanwhile, Business Insider reports that a group of stay at home parents are petitioning the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to look at a credit card rule that bars parents without their own income source from having credit cards in their name. Gary Rivlin and Barbara Ehrenreich wrote pieces this week examining the role fees play in the lives of low-income people. Both are worth a read.

Student Loan Debt

Mid-May is usually a time when young college graduates celebrate, but as TIME notes, this year, as in recent years past, many grads are walking the stage with a hefty debt load and poor job prospects. MSNBC reports on the issue of student debt, including the role for-profit colleges and misleading messages from college administrators on debt loads and their impact on future economic mobility. Student loan debt is also having interesting ramifications for young Catholics who are seeking to join religious orders. A study of Catholic religious institutions found that seven in every ten institutions had turned away applicants with student loan debts because they could not afford to take on the debt obligations.


Eric Schoenberg, who explains he made over $700,000 in 2010, looks at federal income tax policy and the differential treatment we give to income from investment versus work and finds the policy to be inequitable. Demos has a new report out just in time for today’s Facebook IPO announcement entitled, Public Offering, Private Wealth: What The Facebook IPO Really Says About America's Economy. The paper looks at our broader economic system and uses the Facebook example to make a case that wealth inequality exacerbates civic inequality. The Center for American Progressalso has a new report on this week that looks at inequality: The American Middle Class, Income Inequality, and the Strength of Our Economy: New Evidence in Economics.

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