The Assets Agenda

Policy Paper
Sept. 3, 2008

The current economic downturn, triggered in part by excessive household debt and deflating housing prices, underscores the central role asset ownership plays in the economic security of American families and the broader economy. Broad asset ownership, whether through savings or investment, has the potential to connect economic opportunity with economic security and ensure that every member of society is afforded a real stake in the commonwealth. Assets are important not only because they can be deployed productively or tapped to help individuals and families weather unexpected events, but because they have behavioral effects that can change the manner in which people think about and plan for the future.

Past efforts to democratize access to property, capital, and credit have had positive effects. Yet the most notable feature of our current policy paradigm is how many it excludes. Through targeted tax breaks, affluent families are given many options to acquire assets, while those with fewer resources are offered less attractive ways to build wealth. The poorest families among us are given limited access to income supports and social services. This approach misses the potential of assets to help chart a path out of poverty. If we are to successfully broaden savings and assets ownership, our policy efforts must be expanded, strengthened, and directed toward those with the greatest need.

The purpose of this report is to outline a federal public policy agenda to broaden savings and asset ownership opportunities for lower-income Americans who have limited resources at their disposal. In developing our thinking on the subject, we have drawn on the research and expert analysis of many others in the field. The agenda we present here includes calls for new structures and policies at the federal level, as well as changes to existing tax systems, government programs, and financial products. Some of these policies are well developed, others need more seasoning, but all of them have the potential to contribute to the economic well-being of millions of American families.

This edition of New America's Assets Agenda is the most comprehensive to date, with 84 innovative asset-building ideas. Following the introduction, it is organized in 13 sections, each beginning with a brief synopsis of a problem, followed by specific policy proposals.


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