The 2010 Assets Learning Conference: Creating the Save and Invest Economy

This week I am participating, along with over 1,000 other delegates from around the U.S. and a dozen foreign countries, in the biannual Assets Learning Conference hosted by CFED in Washington, DC (Click here to follow our Twitter feed from the conference). The conference brings together a genuinely broad range of participants – including community practitioners, policymakers, researchers, public officials, entrepeneurs, and businesspeople –  united by a shared interest in the ways that assets can help create prosperity and expand economic opportunity for all Americans.

In her opening State of the Field address, CFED President Andrea Levere laid out the case for why the assets movement  has reached a defining moment. She argued that an array of programs, policies, products, and financial strategies that the asset-building field has pioneered over the past 30 year are ready to be scaled and to lay the foundation for a more just and inclusive economy.

The theme of the 2010 Asset Learning Conference is “Creating the Save and Invest Economy”, inspired in part by a speech delivered by President Obama in 2009 on rebuilding the American economy:

We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand. We must build our house upon a rock. We must lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity — a foundation that will move us from an era of borrow and spend to one where we save and invest; where we consume less at home and send more exports abroad.

Michael Barr, the assistant secretary for financial institutions at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, spoke to the opening plenary of some of the initiatives the Administration is pursuing to spur this vision of an economy based on saving and investment. Their three-fold focus is on expanding financial education; broadening financial access, especially for the large segment of the population that is unbanked or that relies on high-cost fringe financial services; and strengthening consumer protection in the home mortgage and financial services sectors, particularly through the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau enacted as part of this year’s financial reform law. Barr also identified a number of key policies specifically aimed at encouraging more families, especially those of moderate means, to save. These include automatic contributions to retirement accounts, lifting asset limits in public benefit programs, and making it easy for people to invest part or all of their tax returns in U.S. savings bonds. The Administration has also pushed for a major expansion of the Savers Credit, which is part of a policy agenda that hundreds of the delegates promoted during visits with their Congressional representatives on Capitol Hill.

Oklahoma is well represented at the Assets Learning Conference with some dozen participants, most of whom are operating non-profit and tribal programs aimed at promoting savings and wealth and expanding economic security. These programs include home ownership assistance, tax refund sites, matched savings Individual Development Accounts, financial education and counseling, and others. It is something of a happy coincidence that the conference  is taking place right as the Oklahoma Asset Building Coalition is convening a series of five regional meetings across Oklahoma to discuss assets and economic security. What we are learning in DC about the innovative policies, programs and products being developed across the nation will help inform the Coalition’s remaining regional meetings and our work going forward. In time, we also hope it will help lay the groundwork for a policy agenda to build assets and strengthen economic security.

The challenges the assets movement faces certainly remain daunting. The Great Recession has left more families in financial distress and led to a great loss of wealth from declining home and stock values. The movement also continues to grapple with how to communicate and organize around a central concept – assets – that remains unfamiliar and ill-defined to most of the public and many potential participants and supporters. Yet the conference also reminds us that the field is bristling with innovative ideas, committed practitioners, and proven strategies. We look forward to going back home charged up and ready to get down to work.


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

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