Exploring ways to build assets among low-income (Oklahoman)

Oklahoman Editorial

The word “assets” and the term “lower-income citizens” rarely appear in the same sentence. The working poor often have no assets, so the lack of a linkage is axiomatic.

Yet linking “assets” to “lower-income citizens” is not only possible but desirable for all of us, according to a thoughtful analysis prepared by The Oklahoma Policy Institute’s David Blatt.

The Policy Institute and affiliated groups promote the well-being of lower-income Oklahomans. Blatt believes asset building is essential not only for the middle and upper classes. The working poor also need to build assets and possibly join the middle class in so doing.

Asset building, Blatt says, unites “the traditionally liberal concern of reducing poverty and increasing social mobility with the traditionally conservative emphasis on building individual wealth and ownership.”

However, he continues, “asset development remains little understood and often overlooked by many who are engaged in developing and implementing public policies.”

That’s a mouthful and provides much food for thought during what will apparently be a slow recovery for Oklahoma’s sagging economy.

Assets aren’t all financial (cash, homes, stocks, bonds). Some are intangible, such as education, good health and “experiences and knowledge that equip one to prosper in life.”

Economic security and upward mobility are inextricably linked to asset building. Linkages are also self-evident between education and prosperity, good health and earnings potential. The state suffers from having too few college graduates and too many citizens in poor health.

Blatt offers five recommendations for asset building among the lower-income sector. Prime among them is getting more folks into college.

To do this, he suggests opening state-funded college savings plans at birth and providing incentives such as matching contributions. Oklahoma has a good 529 college savings plan, but few Oklahomans of modest means take advantage of it. Wealthier citizens enjoy tax credits for contributing to plan accounts.

Other recommendations include expanding the Insure Oklahoma program, a public-private partnership that has helped lower-income Oklahomans afford health insurance; cracking down on payday lending practices; easing asset limit restrictions placed on applicants for public assistance; and increasing the state income tax personal exemption, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit or upping the sales tax relief credit.

Blatt’s conclusion is that government’s investment in asset development lacks “a clear focus on reducing poverty and public assistance and helping families become self-sufficient. Our continued prosperity and economic security depend on us doing better.”

Proposals that will increase state spending or reduce revenues will be a tough sell in these economic times. But as Blatt and The Oklahoman have noted before, a downturn presents an excellent opportunity to explore creative ideas that could be implemented when the economy turns a corner into renewed asset building.

Original at: http://www.newsok.com/article/3422330


Oklahoma Policy Insititute (OK Policy) advances equitable and fiscally responsible policies that expand opportunity for all Oklahomans through non-partisan research, analysis, and advocacy.

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