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Assets and "The Other America"

July 13, 2012

Earlier this week, Demos held a great conference commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Michael Harrington’s The Other America. The conference coincided with the publication of The American Prospect’s new issue focusing on poverty. During his introduction, Demos President Miles Rapoport acknowledged that the one-day event could not and would not be a comprehensive account of poverty in America; in fact, he specifically noted that there would not be any presentations focusing on the asset-building approach. Nevertheless, throughout the day, panelists touched on some core themes of the asset building field, particularly with respect to two areas of focus: investment in early childhood and the role (and limitations) of job creation in reducing poverty.

Event Summary: Jobs are Not Enough

July 12, 2012
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The Asset Building Program hosted an event Wednesday, July 11 to release the July/August issue of the Washington Monthly. The issue focuses on the importance and applicability of the asset building agenda in the lives of all Americans. Utilizing the magazine's focus as a frame for the event, our panelists tackled critical themes such as savings as a path to higher education, the importance of life-long savings mechanisms, the role of federal policies in promoting prosperity, and a growing political divide between young and old Americans.

The Slow-Motion Collapse of American Entrepreneurship

  • By
  • Barry C. Lynn,
  • Lina Khan,
  • New America Foundation
July 10, 2012 |

"For all its current economic woes,” the Economist magazine recently asserted, “America remains a beacon of entrepreneurialism.” That idea is at the heart of America’s self-image. Both parties celebrate entrepreneurial small business as the fount of innovation and growth. Even if America no longer manufactures its own smartphones or computers, we cling to the idea that American entrepreneurs invent most of the new products and services that matter to the world.

New Study Finds Declining Rates of Entrepreneurship

July 10, 2012

Editor's Note: This is a guest blog post authored by Lina Khan, program associate with New America's Markets, Enterprise and Resiliency Initiative.

If there’s one thing Americans have faith in it’s the country’s entrepreneurial verve. Even amid high unemployment and a tepid economic recovery, we generally believe that strong entrepreneurship and upstart businesses will help steer us out of our present ditch. Media reports and sparring politicians fixate on this crucial sector of the American economy, a source of new products, new ideas, new jobs, and new wealth.

An article published today shows that America’s entrepreneurial sector is actually in deep crisis. The piece, written by Barry C. Lynn and myself in the forthcoming issue of the Washington Monthly, shows that for over a generation fewer Americans have been creating new businesses. The nation’s self-image notwithstanding, the number of new entrepreneurs – measured per capita – declined by 53 percent between 1977 and 2010. Even the share of self-employed Americans has fallen, dropping by more than 20 percent between 1991 and 2010.

Out of Business

  • By
  • Barry C. Lynn,
  • Lina Khan,
  • New America Foundation
July 10, 2012

America’s entrepreneurial sector is in deep trouble. Although the mainstream media continues to promote the idea that the nation’s small and upstart businesses are either generally thriving or, at worst, recovering from the sudden blow of the Great Recession, a closer look at the data reveals the exact opposite to be true, with a long-standing decline in the numbers of independent startups per working-age American.

A New American Dream Becomes Reality As Cities Grow More Than Suburbs

June 29, 2012
Families bike together in Portland, by Steven Vance

According to the 2011 census estimates, for the first since 1920—nearly a century—cities are growing more than suburbs. A recent study shows 77% of millennials want to live in the urban core. 28 year-old Denver resident, Jaclyn King said, “I will never live in the suburbs… I just like being connected to everything down here—concerts, work, restaurants, all of it.

Asset Building News Week, June 17 - June 22

June 22, 2012
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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 the monetary policy, economic inequality, and financial services.


Monetary Policy

The New Inequality Story is Wealth, Not Income

June 20, 2012
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Inequality has been receiving a fair amount of attention in recent years. Even before the Great Recession hit, a number of researchers and academics were sharing observations on the divergent paths of those in the middle and on the bottom compared to those at the top and very top. Median wages have been relatively stagnant, and, more importantly, had become divorced from productivity gains. And while poverty has persisted for large segments of the population, the share of income controlled by those at the top has continued to climb. These have been long-term trends which began to take shape in the early 1980s. Two questions have been on my mind. First, what about wealth? Second, what’s the connection between the Great Recession and inequality in America?

I’ve posed these questions to Tim Noah, whose recent book, The Great Divergence, has helped elevate the discussion of inequality in America. Tim recently posted a response on his informative and insightful blog. But I didn’t like his answers.

In his book, Tim limits his discussion of inequality to the distribution of income. I think this fails to capture the full extent of the phenomenon. In some ways, I understand the choice. We have much better data for income than we do for wealth and traditionally that is where the research on inequality has focused. Still, income is only part to the story, and I fear Tim has needlessly limited his inquiry. It reminds me of looking for something where the light is brightest even though it was lost somewhere else.

New data from the Federal Reserve make it clear that wealth has assumed a leading role in the inequality story. Their Survey of Consumer Finances offers one of the fullest accounts of the family balance sheet. Unfortunately, it is conducted only every three years. The good news is that the last two surveys (2007 and 2010) offer a means to examine the impact of the Great Recession.

Here is what the Fed reported about the changes in wealth holdings. Between 2007 and 2010, the average family saw their wealth decline 39 percent. That is a sentence that deserves to be bolded. This far outpaced the 8% drop of income the average family experienced.  The 39% drop in wealth speaks to the severity of the recession and it did get front page treatment on a number of news outlets. But the impact was not experienced equally. Families in the top ten percent by income actually saw their net worth increase almost two percent.

Those at the top had their wealth holdings increase and almost everybody else experienced a drastic decline. That’s inequality by definition. Check out the visual (rollover to see the absolute figures).

Here’s another perspective on the same phenomenon. This time the families are ranked by their net worth holdings rather than income. Those in the bottom 25% had their (admittedly small) wealth holdings completely wiped out. Families in the next three groups experienced big drops but at increasingly declining rates. The top 10% were relatively immune from the impact of the Great Recession, experiencing a wealth loss of 6.4%.

These charts offer new and illuminating information. While we have known for years that median incomes have stagnated even as there were income gains at the very top, the re-concentration of wealth is an emerging phenomenon. And it appears that the Great Recession has changed the dynamics at play.

Tim writes on his excellent blog that he can’t get too worked up about this for a number of reasons, almost all of which I find surprising.

IMF to the U.S. and Europe: Help Not Wanted

  • By
  • Charles Kenny,
  • New America Foundation
June 15, 2012 |

As the Great Recession rumbles on, hitting the old, very rich countries of Europe and North America far harder than the new, somewhat rich economies of Asia and Latin America, the traditional order of global financial governance is looking increasingly frayed. At the Group of 20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, on June 18-19, world leaders are expected to issue bold statements about their commitment to reshaping institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to reflect shifts in the economic balance of power.

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