EDITOR’S NOTE: This story originally appeared in the commentary section at mySanAntonio.com, which you can read here.
A genuine opportunity to achieve upward economic mobility is central to the American dream that Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned at the March on Washington. This is fundamentally the same goal that has long beckoned hard-working immigrants to the United States and drives families to work long hours and multiple jobs. Upward mobility is about more than simply getting a job — it is about building assets through activities such as purchasing a home, starting a business, or attaining a college degree.
Growing assets begins with basic building blocks — starting with access to financial information and education, a savings account and a good credit history built through responsible use of credit.
Savings provide a financial cushion against unexpected emergencies like medical bills or car repair costs. In the long term, saving can increase the likelihood of buying a home, starting a business or going to college. For instance, children with college savings accounts in their own names are seven times more likely to go to college than children who do not have an account. For the 1 in 10 Texan households, and 30 percent of all households in the U.S., that don’t have savings accounts, savings are an asset worth building.
Responsible credit opens the door to lower costs, wider choices and greater financial freedom. But for those with poor credit, many can expect to pay up to $250,000 more in interest payments than those with good credit over the course of a lifetime. For the 65 percent of Texans with subprime credit, improving their credit score can reduce the cost of borrowing and would be another valuable asset.
Savings and good credit allow families to be more financially resilient and build long-term wealth. A recent report by the Corporation for Enterprise Development, or CFED, found that many households in Texas, especially households of color, are extremely financially vulnerable because of their limited savings and credit. CFED found that over a quarter of all households in Texas are living in asset poverty — meaning that they lack sufficient available net worth or savings to subsist at even the poverty level for three months in the absence of income. The report also shows that the asset poverty rate among households of color is twice that of white households. CFED has ranked Texas 39th in the nation for household financial security. In response, cities such as San Antonio and Dallas are developing innovative programs aimed at restoring household financial security for all residents.
In 2010, CFED did a similar analysis of San Antonio and found that 34 percent of the city’s households lived in asset poverty. Mayor Julián Castro‘s commitment to growing savings is resulting in a lasting infrastructure that will bolster household financial security and ensure more households, especially in low-income communities of color, are able to reach more of their financial goals. San Antonio’s participation in the Cities for Financial Empowerment Coalition ensures that the city contributes and benefits from cutting-edge approaches to asset building. A recent example of this was the opening of two financial empowerment centers in east and west San Antonio earlier this year, replicating New York City’s model for providing free financial counseling to low-income residents.
Today, the Growing Assets: Closing the Wealth Gap Regional Convening will take place in San Antonio. Organized by the Asset Building Policy Network, a coalition of the nation’s leading civil rights and asset-building organizations and Citi, the convening will gather national asset-building experts and civic and community leaders from across Texas to exchange ideas and develop the solutions to Texas’ asset-building challenges.
Bob Annibale is global director of Community Development and Microfinance at Citi. Noel Poyo is executive director of the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders.