Asset Building News Week, September 1-5

article | September 05, 2014

The Asset Building News Week is a weekly Friday feature on The Ladder, the Asset Building Program blog, designed to help readers keep up with news and developments in the asset building field. This week's topics include inequality, food security, savings, and employment.

Fast-Food Labor Protests

Fast-food workers from around the country staged demonstrations yesterday to protest the low wages most employees at national fast-food chains receive for their labor. The Guardian’s Tom McCarthy ran live-blogging coverage of the day’s events, chronicling the arrest of more than 100 demonstrators by city police officers in New York, Chicago, Miami, Boston, Pittsburgh, and other U.S. cities. Many commentators chimed in this week on what the protests say about the state of wages and of labor organizing around the country. Jonathan Cohn situated the protests within the broader context of the present-day state of labor organizing as a whole. While he acknowledges that it will be hard to make a huge impact on unionization from this one day of demonstrations, he’s optimistic about labor’s new tactics to help workers: “labor has always been at its best when it was an advocate for all working people, not just those paying dues.” Megan McArdle is more skeptical about the strategy of using the protests to increase labor unionization in “a highly fragmented, extremely competitive industry.” Whatever the outcome, the problems addressed by the protests are serious, not least of them involving allegations of wage theft on the part of fast-food chains, an issue Steven Greenhouse reported on for The New York Times.

Race and Poverty

Radley Balko wrote a long-form article for The Washington Post on “how municipalities in St. Louis County, Mo., profit from poverty.” At the root of the matter is that “there are too many towns, and not enough taxpayers to sustain them,” so in response to this state of affairs, “the cops and courts are still geared more toward generating revenue than promoting public safety.” And the way the governments generate this revenue is by targeting the poor, who simply “don’t have the money to pay the fines,” according to Thomas Harvey, one of the three co-founders of ArchCity Defenders. In the article, Balko profiles a single mother who is imprisoned for minor traffic offenses such as “speeding, not wearing a seatbelt, [and] forgetting to get your car inspected on time” and as a result misses out on job opportunities and is unable to take care of her family.

The state of New York is bringing a suit against a regional bank in the Buffalo, NY area alleging racial redlining. According to Jessica Silver-Greenberg, who reported on the investigation for The New York Times’s DealBook, “One area of the city — neighborhoods in east Buffalo, where more than 75 percent of the city’s African-American population lives — was explicitly excluded, cut off from access to mortgage credit.” A fact sure to be central to the investigation is that “even banks without an office in Buffalo, prosecutors say, managed to make more loans to African-American borrowers in the area at more than ‘double the rates that [the regional bank under investigation] did.’”

Public Assistance

James Weill for the McClatchy-Tribune papers provided a retrospective on SNAP, 50 years after it was first created as the Food Stamp program. SNAP, as Weill put it, “proves its continuing vitality.” Neil Shah for the Wall Street Journal, reported that SNAP receipts are starting to fall as the job market begins to pick up. This is a significant development because it affirms the position of many SNAP supporters, who argue that the program is intended to provide countercyclical support for Americans who are put in tough financial situations during recessions and who progress off of public assistance in better economic times. One research finding about SNAP has revealed an interesting impact of the program that was probably not originally considered in the 1960s: public assistance enables entrepreneurship. Among the key findings of Gareth Olds’s doctoral dissertation, which was discussed in a Forbes op-ed by Carmen Nobel, is that “an increase in access to public welfare services leads to an increase in the formation of new companies.”


Patricia Cohen introduced prize-linked savings to a broader readership this past weekend in an article published in the Sunday New York Times. The article shined the spotlight on D2D’s “Save to Win” initiative, which offers a chance to win thousands of dollars to eligible people who make a contribution to a savings account at participating credit unions. At least one editorial board in a state without prize-linked savings thinks this would be a good idea in their state. The Editorial Board of wrote this week that “Ohio should borrow a successful idea that has spread from Michigan to other states to spur more people to sock away money in their savings accounts.”

For more ideas about increasing savings for disadvantaged populations, listen to a podcast this week in New America’s Weekly Wonk, which features the Global Assets Project’s Scarlett Aldebot-Green interviewing Tanaya Kilara, a Financial Sector Analyst for the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, about a new framework that helps financial institutions decide whether, when, and how banking youth can be good for business. Scarlett Aldebot-Green will also be moderating a discussion this coming Monday about expanding financial services to better serve immigrant communities in the U.S. For more information about the event, which is titled “Investing in the American Dream: Immigrants, Financial Institutions, and Financial Inclusion in America,” or to register to attend, click here.

Quick Hits

The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System released the 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) yesterday. Stay tuned for further analysis.

Patrick M. Sheridan shed light on the growing trend of retirees’ meager Social Security benefits being garnished to repay often long-forgotten student loans.

In case you missed it, Christopher Leonard, an Eric and Wendy Schmidt Fellow with New America, published a long-form article last week about the impact of the riots on minority-owned businesses in Ferguson, Missouri. The article, published in Bloomberg Businessweek, discusses the extent of racial inequality in the region and its impact on business owners.