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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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