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The Ladder

A Blog from New America's Asset Building Program

Asset Building News Week, January 21-25

Published:  January 25, 2013
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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 inequality, the safety net, and self-sufficiency.

Inequality

AlterNet has a recent article that reminds us of the vastness and growth of income inequality in the U.S. KUNC in Colorado examines the extent to which people of color in the state are losing ground in the struggle to stay out of poverty. These stories and others that focus on inequality are more common, perhaps signaling a greater awareness of one of the most intractable problems of modern America. Less common, though no less compelling, are reports like the Daily Beast’s last week that take a different perspective on the issue of inequality, highlighting a less-acknowledged consequence of widening inequality. Janna Malamud Smith argues that widening inequality is not only a growing problem for the country as a whole for its divisive influences in society, but also for its pressures within families and between friends. Inequality of income between family members is associated with disparities in family roles and responsibilities, which many, including the author, believe should be shared equally. The author doesn’t suggest any easy solutions to overcoming family awkwardness about disparities in wealth—except reducing the extremes of rich and poor in the first place.

Like Smith’s piece for the Daily Beast, Professor Lori Martin’s new book, reviewed by the City University of New York’s Newswire, seeks to change readers’ perspectives on topics they thought they knew. Her work on African Americans and poverty led her to repudiate the notion that we are in a “post-racial nation” by emphasizing the issues made clear in the title of her book, Black Asset Poverty and the Enduring Racial Divide. Meanwhile, in the Bronx, the full extent of inequality is made plain as poor residents struggle to find enough to eat at beleaguered food banks with dwindling food reserves.

The Safety Net

One of the government’s most important tools to combat inequality, the Earned Income Tax Credit, received a lot of attention this week, as the 2013 tax filing season begins. Spotlight on Poverty gave a high-profile spot on its website to Clifford Rosenthal with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to discuss the importance of the EITC and to urge more low-income workers to take advantage of the credit. The Asset Building Program also co-sponsored an event this week on Capitol Hill to raise awareness about the credit and to promote greater participation in efforts to retain and strengthen this essential poverty-fighting tool across the country. We're also happy to be featuring a guest blog post today authored by Citi's Bob Annibale on the role of the EITC and VITA sites in supporting lower-income people.

As mentioned last month in an Asset Building News Week post, a growing number of states are considering drug screening requirements as a precondition to receiving welfare benefits. Laws were being considered in Kansas and Florida, among others, but just this week it was reported that a similar mandate would be considered in the New Hampshire legislature. Another statutory provision restricting welfare recipients is being considered in North Carolina that would prohibit welfare recipients from buying lottery tickets. The bill’s supporters acknowledge the enforcement difficulty this statute would pose, but suggest that at least in the most obvious cases, like when a SNAP (food stamp) recipient attempts to buy groceries at the same time, the store clerk should be prevented from selling a lottery ticket.

The debate surrounding Nicholas Kristof’s controversial op-ed disparaging Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income (another story discussed last month on the Ladder’s Asset Building News Week) was renewed this week when Kristof published a response to his critics. He addresses many of the concerns raised by two attorneys from Community Legal Services in Philadelphia. Despite his defensive stance on the SSI issue, however, Kristof also published another op-ed on the same day extolling the virtues of other poverty-fighting programs, especially those aimed at young children like Head Start.

Self-Sufficiency

Homeownership rates declined in 2012, especially among younger first-time homebuyers, reported U.S. News. The piece places much of the blame on the lasting effects of the housing crisis and the Great Recession. Fortunately, it appears that the outlook of most homebuyers isn’t as bleak as it is for those just across the border in Vancouver, British Columbia, where, according to “an annual international affordable housing study released Monday by Demographia, only Hong Kong is more expensive than Vancouver when it comes to buying a home.” Still, the results of a new study suggest that long-term solutions to the housing crisis, at least to the extent that it relates to financing burdens, may remain elusive because of the poor state of most Americans’ personal finances. The survey by the Personal Finance Employee Education Foundation found that the overwhelming majority of Americans experience what they call “financial stress.” The solution for which, the Foundation suggests, would be more workplace financial fitness programs.

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