Asset Ownership plays a central role in the economic security of American families and the broader economy. Assets can be deployed productively, such as to pay for a college education, or tapped to help individuals and families weather unexpected events. Additionally, assets have behavioral effects that can change the manner in which people think about and plan for the future.
The idea that any person, no matter his or her starting place at birth, can get ahead and build a successful life lies at the heart of the American Dream. We typically think of education, homeownership, entrepreneurship, savings, and thrift as the fruits of that pursuit, but they are just as much the assets upon which opportunity for upward economic and social mobility are built. To this end, various federal direct spending and tax expenditures encourage the accumulation of these assets. But how does the Federal government encourage the accumulation of assets and in what forms? Who benefits from these programs? And how will President Obama’s new plans help Americans move up the ladder of opportunity?
To answer these questions, we present a survey of the current landscape of federal asset-building programs that structure the opportunities for individuals to climb the economic ladder. Section I of this report presents a description of relevant recently-enacted legislation, section II present an analysis of President Barack Obama’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget proposals, and section III reviews current tax policy which promotes asset building objectives. Through this analysis, we trace the many ways direct federal expenditures and tax subsidies are deployed to help Americans build assets. In turn, these assets support post-secondary education, homeownership, entrepreneurship, savings and investment, and retirement security. The programs we identify as asset building explicitly help Americans acquire assets for one or more of these purposes. These programs serve individuals and affect broad sectors of the population. We exclude programs meant exclusively for military veterans or a limited portion of the population.
Click here to read the entire paper.