Building Wealth

P1010044Baltimore The community organizing class at the University of Maryland School of Social Work had gone chapter by chapter through Citizen Wealth, so their questions were specific and pointed as they seized on themes that meant something to  them or tried to put their arms around issues that often slip all of our grasp.  The hardest questions involved the very real problems raised in Chapter 9 focusing on maximum eligible participation and whether we really have a program in the US to build citizen wealth not just in raising and distributing income but actually creating assets and long term income security.

The reasons the students questions were so hard is because we really have no satisfactory answers in current public policy.  The largest federal supports continue to go towards home ownership through mortgage interest deductions on federal income taxes without any specific targeting for especially poor families.  Furthermore the current tightened credit markets and the fight to prevent foreclosures have dampened the boosterism around home ownership as a real asset building strategy for the poor.  As the students pressed the issue, it was obvious to me how vacuous the answers are that are provided by current policy and programs.  A student from Cameroon also kept reminding me about my skepticism in the book about using debt to reduce poverty, so among my careful readers I had to be very accountable.

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Learning by Listening about Citizen Wealth

DLC.Doorribbon_000Los Angeles After a week in California from Benicia to San Francisco to Oakland and finally Los Angeles, I found myself scratching my head as I headed home about what I was learning from people’s comments and questions about the continued attack on citizen wealth in America.

In Oakland Alfredo Avila with the Applied Research Center raised the issue that deliberate delays and forced appeals for the elderly apply for social security were extending some delays in receiving benefits by eligible individuals up to 18 months.  I pressed Alfredo because I had not heard this and didn’t want to crawl out on a limb, and there was headshaking throughout the crowd and nods of confirmation.

What about legal services lawyers, I asked, weren’t they challenging this?  Several people in Oakland raised the fact that not only are the offices now barred from any “impact” litigation, which is exactly what this might be, but privately told tales of legal services directors who embraced the restraints more interested in protecting their limited funding than really assisting the poor in making changes.

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