What Does it Take to Create a Financially Healthy America?
Three years ago, we released Investing in What Works for America’s Communities, which included a resounding call for integrated efforts to address poverty in America’s communities. Recognizing that we are strongest when we work together, the book was a call for leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to work together to tackle tough urban challenges.
Since then, a number of exciting collaborations have answered this challenge. We have seen great strides in efforts aimed at addressing education, health, housing, employment, public safety, and financial well-being in a coordinated way, with the end goal of improving lives and strengthening communities. They include Purpose Built Communities, Partners in Progress, Promise Neighborhoods and efforts like the BUILD Health and Working Cities Challenges.
In December 2014, What Counts: Harnessing Data for America’s Communities, the second book in the series, explored how to best gather, analyze, and use data to improve economic opportunity. And this week, a third book, What It’s Worth: Strengthening the Financial Future of Families, Communities and the Nation examines creative solutions that are emerging to help those who are struggling with debt, limited savings, and other challenges to financial security. Both of these books continue to echo the original What Works themes of integration and collaboration and the importance of addressing both people and place.
So what has changed since Investing in What Works was first published? There’s a growing realization that it’s not just “the poor” who benefit from efforts to improve people and places—an awareness driven in part by the far-reaching impact of the recession.
In fact, more than half of all Americans today are considered “financially unhealthy,” according to the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI). And as CFSI’s Jennifer Tescher pointed out in What Works, nearly half of American households could not cover a $2,000 emergency expense in 30 days, including 25 percent of those earning $100,000 to $150,000 a year. She echoes and further expands on this disconcerting reality in What It’s Worth and in her recent column, American Families Are Trapped in a Cycle of Financial Struggle — And It’s Not Just the Poor.
The chapters featured in What It’s Worth explain why connecting financial well-being with jobs, health, housing, and the economy is critical to the country’s economic future. They also describe key trends that are driving poor financial health—including age, education, race and ethnicity—and offer promising solutions from across a broad range of sectors. Notable contributors include PolicyLink CEO Angela Glover Blackwell; Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer; Deputy Treasury Secretary Sarah Bloom Raskin; and Martha Kanter, former Under Secretary of Education.
“Between What Works and What It’s Worth, there is a clear trend toward the joining of people- and place-based work,” says Nancy Andrews, President and CEO of the Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) and senior editor of What Works. “Those of us who have dedicated our lives to building better places are learning from those who have dedicated their lives to building financial inclusion. Neither of us alone is good enough. But together we have a fighting chance to make a difference in people’s lives, in communities and in building better, healthier futures for children and families.”