There is a looming crisis that threatens to confine a generation of young Americans to a life of limited opportunity and low prospects. Consider this statistic: by 2018, 45 percent of all jobs will require an associate’s degree or higher. Yet today, only 27 percent of African Americans, 26 percent of U.S.-born Latinos, and 14 percent of Latino immigrants have that level of education. By 2020, 5 million jobs will go unfilled unless we increase the number of college graduates, and that includes those from low-income communities of color. The jobs gap may undermine our national economy and our ability to compete and create a prosperous society for all.
To plug this opportunity gap, over 50 Promise Neighborhoods across the country – including 36 that have received funding from the U.S. Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods program – are working to improve educational outcomes in underserved communities. Promise Neighborhoods are communities of opportunity weaving an integrated collection of services around children and families to link education, health, housing, and other social supports that are strong enough to ensure that children can grow up safely, in good health, graduate from college, and acquire good jobs.
Now, several Promise Neighborhoods are incorporating a crucial new element to their initiatives – asset building. Asset building strategies like financial education, children’s savings programs, predatory lending protection, and investment guidance empower low-income families to achieve long term financial goals and build wealth. Children’s savings accounts (CSAs) are a good example to demonstrate how asset building works.
Children with savings accounts are up to seven times more likely to attend college than those without an account. This is true regardless of family income, race, or educational attainment. Few facts better illustrate the power of financial inclusion – the provision of safe and affordable financial services to low-income and underserved families – to unlock economic opportunity. Local groups are leading the way: the Mission Promise Neighborhood in San Francisco has partnered with the mayor’s office’s Kindergarten to College program to provide CSAs for every child in the neighborhood. More than just a savings account, CSAs focus parents and students on planning for the future, which in turn strengthens their commitment to what they need to do today to make college a reality.
We need to support more young people on the path to college success. The Asset Building Policy Network, a coalition of the nation’s preeminent civil rights and advocacy organizations and Citi, with funding from the Citi Foundation, has launched an exciting new project with PolicyLink to incorporate essential asset-building strategies into the network of Promise Neighborhoods, scaling up its network to serve over 200,000 children and families by 2016.
Collectively, we aim to break the cycle of generational poverty and build brighter futures for children and families, and our national economy.
This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.