Institute on Assets and Social Policy

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    The Leveraging Mobility Series

    What has driven these wealth changes?

    The trends in these interviews and national survey data raise the question: What has enabled some families to build wealth while others fall behind? The interviews point to some key variables that subsequent briefs and reports in this series will explore in greater depth. In untangling the web of choices families face in creating family financial security, it is clear that extended family wealth, policy and employment structures, and knowledge about and access to reliable information, all incentivize and drive the strategies, decisions, and trade-offs that families make. The data point to the intersection of the choices and prospects that families encounter, and the need to create opportunity structures that enable families to access and leverage opportunity to build wealth and family well-being over time.

    Each of the briefs will explore the policy implications of the findings in greater depth. We will complete the series with a synthesis report that pulls the series together and highlights the intertwining policy implications.

    Click to read report"Leveraging Mobility: Building Wealth, Security and Opportunity for Family Well-Being" 

    The first brief in the Leveraging Mobility series examines how families navigate structural and economic challenges to build and secure wealth. This brief highlights some surprising key findings, and provides information on how families in the study have fared over the first decade of the twenty-first century. In a decade of stagnating economic mobility, and increasing income and wealth inequality, how have families built and secured a nest egg for their own retirement security and to leverage their children’s future well-being? What are the pathways and structures that helped them get on and stay on the wealth escalator? Drawing on a unique dataset of longitudinal interviews conducted twelve years apart, families with children in three major cities across the nation were asked about their assets, wealth, income, economic security and life aspirations. Click to read report.

    Click to read report“Employment Capital: How Work Builds and Protects Family Wealth and Security,”

    The second report in the Leveraging Mobility series suggests the link between employment and building wealth goes far beyond the paycheck.  Drawing on the lived experiences of families, this report adds a critical new understanding of the connection between work and wealth.  Interviewing young families in the late 1990s—when the economy was growing and prosperous—and again in 2010—during a stagnant economy amid dramatic wealth loss—we were surprised to find that more than two-thirds had seen their wealth increase.  As we talked to them, it became clear that many factors were at play.  One important observation was that for many of the families that built wealth, the characteristics of their employment facilitated a pathway to accumulating wealth that income alone could not provide.

    A puzzle remained, however.  African-American families in our interview sample saw their incomes and educations rise in relation to those of white families, and yet their wealth increased at a significantly lower rate.  Sifting through the interview data and aligning it with national data as a comparison, it became clear that wealth-building job characteristics are distributed unequally, and sorted through race, class, and occupation. Click to read report.

    Webinar on Leveraging Mobility: How Employment Builds and Protects Family Wealth and Security

    February 2014--This webinar was sponsored by the Center for Financial Security, University of Wisconsin-Madison.  During this webinar IASP Senior Researcher, Hannah Thomas, took a closer look at the implications of the study answered: What is employment capital? What role does it play for families? How does it drive wealth accumulation?  What are the current trends in economic mobility in relation to employment? And what are the policy implications?  A summary of the presentation can be found here.  

    Presenters also included Erin Currier, Director of Economic Mobility for The Pew Charitable Trusts, and Ray Boshara, Senior Adviser and Assistant Vice President of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

    Webinar on Leveraging Mobility: The Work to Wealth Escalator"

    March 2014--Janet Boguslaw, Associate Director, participated in a Webinar "The Work to Wealth Escalator: Why a Quality Job is More than Just Income" hosted by members of the Building Economic Security Over a Lifetime Initiative of the Ford Foundation, PolicyLinkJobs with Justice, and Family Values @ Work.  The webinar focused on the second report in IASP's Leveraging Mobility series, Employment Capital: How Work Builds and Protects Family Wealth and Security.  

    Click to read report"Keeping Dreams Alive: The Lane-Changer Costs of Financial Disruptions"

    Income-disrupting life events–divorce, unemployment, poor health, caregiving–occur far more frequently than we think with real costs and consequences for financial well-being. These life events can have deep consequences that shift life’s trajectories and curtail family-member's dreams.

    Not everyone experiences the risk of income-disrupting life events equally. Nor do all families have the same depth of resources to navigate them. The result, these life events affect families differently. This Leveraging Mobility series research brief, reviews how families bear the costs of income-disrupting life events and the financial context that impacts how they make decisions to maintain immediate well-being. This report looks at ways policy can increase the capacity of families to stay on track as well as generate opportunities for families to overcome income-disrupting life events. Click to read report.

    Webinar on Leveraging Mobility: Strengthening Family Resiliency: The Lane Changer Costs of Financial Disruptions

    June 2014--Income disrupting life events are more common than we think. Divorce, unemployment, poor health, caregiving all have real costs and consequences that can shift life's trajectories, curtail family-member's dreams, and have devastating long lasting effects on a families' financial security and well being. Some families are more vulnerable to financial disruptions than others and not everyone experiences the same risk of income loss from these events. What are the real costs to these events? Why do some recover more quickly and easily than others? What kinds of change in policy and practice can help secure present and future opportunities for families navigating life's financial disruptions?

    Click to read report"The Web of Wealth: Resiliency and Opportunity or Driver of Inequality?"

    The fourth report in the Leveraging Mobility series seeks to understand the role that extended family wealth networks play. Families often help each other out financially. In the short-term, financial help limits those in the network from economic collapse or a serious decline in their standard of living. Over the long-term, extended family financial support can provide a steppingstone to better opportunities, such as going to college, starting a business, or purchasing a home. Financial transfers can also be much larger, fundamentally changing a family’s lot in life.  This network of extended family financial assistance is a “web of wealth” that, in the U.S., profoundly shapes individual family members’ social and economic trajectories beyond their own achievements in work and education. A web of wealth depends on the financial resilience and affluence of its members. Some wealth webs are packed with prosperous individuals. Many family webs have no wealth, especially low-income, African American, and other family of color networks. Across generations, historic policies have contributed to this inequitable wealth distribution. This latest brief in the Leveraging Mobility Series  explores these themes in greater depth. It seeks to understand whether extended family wealth networks provide resiliency and opportunity or drive inequality. Click to read report.

    image of Location Brief"Location, Location, Location: The Role Neighborhoods Play in Family Wealth and Well-Being"

    People are drawn to neighborhoods for various reasons—family ties, connections to friends, attachment to institutions—yet, the financial and social resources that a family has access to within these neighborhoods affects a family’s well-being and ability to gain social and economic mobility.  In “Location, Location, Location: The Role Neighborhoods Play in Family Wealth and Well-Being”, the 5th report in the Leveraging Mobility Series, the Institute on Assets and Social Policy examines the disparities in neighborhood opportunity. This brief delineates between high opportunity and low opportunity neighborhoods, explains the disparities in neighborhood opportunity and reveals the reasons why families are sorted by race and class into different quality neighborhoods.

    Drawing on longitudinal survey and interview data, this brief seeks to understand how families negotiate the diverse structure of neighborhood opportunity and explores their experiences of living in different types of neighborhoods.  National-level longitudinal quantitative data illustrates the consequences of where a family lives and highlights why families place so much emphasis on gaining access to the “right” neighborhood. 

The history of racial segregation in the United States has laid the foundation for ongoing neighborhood opportunity segregation.  Policy has helped structure the segregation of opportunity by race and class, and so policy clearly has a critical role to play in helping to create a fairer distribution of opportunity by neighborhood.

    The history of racial segregation in the United States has laid the foundation for ongoing neighborhood opportunity segregation.  Policy has helped structure the segregation of opportunity by race and class, and so policy clearly has a critical role to play in helping to create a fairer distribution of opportunity by neighborhood.  Click to read the report

    Click to download report"Navigating an Unclear Path: Preparing for Retirement in the 21st Century"

    All families hope for lasting financial security, but today many families in the United States struggle to make ends meet, let alone prepare for their financial future. In the sixth brief in the Leveraging Mobility Series, “Navigating an Unclear Path: Preparing for Retirement in the 21st Century”, a mixed-methods approach is taken to analyze the long-term financial well-being of middle-aged households as they plan for the future and approach retirement. 

    Notably this research suggests that establishing a secure, long-term financial position does not occur in a vacuum. Instead, neighborhood and family resources, as well as institutional setting, are key resources in creating a financial foundation for a family. By understanding the sources of security and the key vulnerabilities families face, policy can be proposed and structural solutions suggested that expand long-term later life security to a greater numbers of families.

    For more information about the Leveraging Mobility Study, please contact us at or (781) 736-8685

    Webinar: Building an Equitable Retirement System for the 21st Century

     cover of Tipping the Scale"Tipping the Scale: How Assets Shape Economic Wellbeing for Women and Families"

    Caregiving responsibilities and changes in household composition, such as divorce or separation, create financial challenges that disproportionately affect women. The seventh brief in the Leveraging Mobility series, “Tipping the Scale: How Assets Shape Economic Wellbeing for Women and Families,” examines how families leverage neighborhood, institutional, and personal resources to protect against these gendered, wealth-stripping forces. Framed by national trends that point to racial disparities in access to these resources, the brief uses comparative case studies to explore how unequal access shapes the set of strategies and trade-offs available to women and their families.

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