Owning Up

Owning Up: Poverty, Assets, and the American Dream

Michelle Miller-Adams
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Owning Up
    Book Description:

    Despite the recent success of welfare reform in moving people off public assistance and into jobs, most of America's working poor are still unable to accumulate even the most minimal of assets. Even when they are getting by, they lack many of the resources -tangible and intangible -that provide middle-class Americans with a sense of security, stability, and a stake in the future. InOwning Up, Michelle Miller-Adams demonstrates how asset-building programs, used in combination with traditional income-based support, can be an effective means for helping millions of American out of poverty. Miller-Adams expands the traditional concept of assets to encompass a range of tools, experiences, resources, and support systems that are necessary if asset building is to serve as an effective anti-poverty strategy. She identifies four types of assets that can represent sources of wealth for low-income individuals and communities: economic human social, and natural assets. Economic assets include equity, retirement savings, and other financial holdings. Human assets include education, knowledge, skills, and talents. Included among social assets are the networks of trust and reciprocity that bind communities together. Natural assets include the land, water, air and other natural resources we depend on for survival. Owning Up also examines five organizations at the forefront of building assets for the poor. Their stories are told through the eyes of individuals whose lives they have helped transform. These organizations have all developed effective strategies for building assets, and Miller-Adams identifies them as models to be emulated elsewhere. The profiled organizations include: Neighborhoods Incorporated of Battle Creek, Michigan. Its innovative strategies seek to increase home ownership and promote neighborhood revitalization in poor communities. The Watershed Research and Training Center. This local organization strengthens the natural resource-based economy by retraining workers and strengthening social ties. The Private Industry Partnership of Wildcat Service Corporation. Based in New York City, PIP trains former welfare recipients in New York City for entry-level white collar jobs. Iowa's Institute for Social and Economic Development. This microenterprise development organization is one of the largest U.S. based organizations training low-income entrepreneurs. The Corporation for Enterprise Development. CFED, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that has been instrumental in showing that poor people can and will save if given the opportunities and incentives for doing so. They have helped put Individual Development Accounts on the national agenda.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-0641-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Building Assets
    (pp. 1-22)

    As the twentieth century drew to a close, the economic news in the United States could not have been better. Almost two decades had passed since the last real recession. The stock market boom, under way since the mid-1990s, was bringing new wealth not only to the upper classes but to millions in the middle class who had only recently become investors. In 2000, the poverty rate fell to its lowest level in close to thirty years, with rates for the elderly, African Americans, and female-headed households dropping to all-time lows. Unemployment, too, subsided to a thirty-year low and median...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Coming Home
    (pp. 23-51)

    Home ownership stands at the center of the American dream. Buying a home has long been a symbol of success, a sign of having made it into the middle class. Two-thirds of Americans own their homes and, among those who do not, a majority ranks home ownership as the highest priority.¹ For most families, their home is their single largest investment and an important source of security. Once a home is fully paid for, the owners can live in it rent-free or pass it on to their children. And, unlike rental costs that may increase each year, ownership makes housing...

  6. CHAPTER THREE On Common Ground
    (pp. 52-86)

    Two thousand miles away, the citizens of the tiny mountain town of Hayfork, California, are engaged in a struggle not all that different from the one being waged in Battle Creek. Here the forces of decline were not deindustrialization and a move to the suburbs, but a change in the fate of the forests on which Hayfork’s residents depend for their livelihoods. Still, the goals are much the same: to stabilize the economic foundations of the town and bring residents together to develop a common vision for their future. And here, too, an organization with deep roots in the community...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Work with a Future
    (pp. 87-116)

    If there is any consensus among the American public about the route out of poverty, it is that work must play a central part. Welfare reform, enacted in 1996, had as its centerpiece strict rules that require all able-bodied recipients of public assistance eventually to leave welfare for work. The success of these policies in cutting the welfare rolls has only reinforced the notion that virtually all Americans can and should be gainfully employed. The new rules, however, have been far less successful in reducing poverty. Former welfare recipients earn on average just over $7 an hour. Three-fourths of them...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Making It Her Business
    (pp. 117-150)

    Low-income people have few options as they seek to find a place in the work force of the twenty-first century. As recently as the 1970s, a high school diploma opened the door to a stable job at a decent wage. Even those who had not completed high school could earn good pay and excellent benefits through union membership and employment at one of the nation’s manufacturing firms. But by the 1980s, the avenues that had provided economic security to people with limited skills were blocked. A shift away from manufacturing and toward services eliminated many unionized jobs. The globalization of...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Can the Poor Save?
    (pp. 151-189)

    In 1997, a group of nonprofit organizations embarked on an initiative to answer the question: Can the poor save?¹ At thirteen sites around the nation, community organizations offered low-income people the opportunity to open an individual development account (IDA)—a dedicated savings account to be used only for asset-building purposes such as home ownership, education, starting a business, or retirement.² The incentive to participate was that every dollar saved by an individual in such an account would be matched by another dollar or more contributed by the foundations supporting the program and local funders. Along with the match would come...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 190-202)

    What do the stories recounted in this volume tell us about asset building as an antipoverty strategy? As Michael Sherraden has pointed out, not many people manage to spend their way out of poverty. Economically, it is saving and the accumulation of assets that are the keys to development for poor households. Investments in other kinds of assets provide similar benefits. Education and training represent forms of human capital that provide workers with higher incomes, greater job security, and more options in a rapidly changing economy. The networks of connections, trust, and reciprocity that constitute social capital offer people support...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 203-216)
  12. Index
    (pp. 217-224)