Institute on Assets and Social Policy

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

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Why Assets?

Why Assets?

Assets are the foundation of resources that families and communities draw on to meet more than their basic needs.

Assets are resources used to promote family mobility and well-being and include such things as savings, education, good health, home ownership, and the connections people have to each other as pathways or networks to other resources and mutual support. Nearly two in five families in the US are asset-poor—their financial assets cannot bridge essential living expenses for three months during times of economic difficulty without falling into poverty.

Income, when coupled with assets, provides a family with economic security and the opportunity for moving ahead. Income provides an important basis for building assets needed to save for future needs, pursue an education, buy a home, start a business, live securely in retirement, and weather economic challenges of unemployment, illness, or disaster. Families use income to meet daily needs while assets provide stability and security and can grow and accumulate over time.

The opportunity to build a life of security, stability, and well-being is at the heart of the American Dream. Opportunities for success rely on individual effort in a context of formal and informal public policies, programs, and institutions. Today, there is growing recognition that family assets play a key role in building this ideal life, and that family asset development and protection should be a critical focus of policies designed to alleviate poverty and to increase opportunities for social and economic mobility and security.

Research demonstrates that while all families need opportunities for asset building and social mobility, sufficient and appropriate opportunities are not universally available. America needs a broader set of asset-building policies to reach outwards and downwards to those who have not yet been included. Families need opportunities to:

  • build an asset base through adequate wages and benefits to ensure stability and well-being
  • expand their knowledge and capacities through new and continuing education and training in content areas and around issues of financial literacy
  • grow and protect financial assets such as savings accounts, home ownership, and retirement plans
  • provide equitable access to opportunities for asset formation available through our tax system to those with higher incomes

Social policy must go well beyond patching the social safety net. Increasingly, costs are shifting from social investment in the common good associated with health care, education, retirement security and other areas, to family wallets and a focus on personal responsibility alone. Social policy is needed to renew a withering opportunity structure by creating a set of social investments that can serve as a platform for mobility and security.

The survival of the American Dream rests on our ability to be a competitive player in the global economy while broadening access to its benefits across all members of the nation. IASP is dedicated to advancing opportunity, security, and equity for all Americans through asset-building polices and programs.

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