Lack of access to institutions and policies to accumulate assets among disadvantaged populations is one important factor contributing to increased wealth inequality. Policies and programs promoting wealth accumulation in the United States are often regressive and delivered through the tax system, such as tax benefits for home ownership, investments, retirement savings, college savings, health savings, and medical savings. Low-income families receive almost none of these benefits. For example, only 41% of black families and 26% of Hispanic families owned retirement savings accounts, substantively lower than that of white families (61%). The mean assets in retirement savings accounts for whites ($73,000) were about 330% of that for blacks and Hispanics ($22,000). Inclusive and progressive asset-building programs aim to provide institutional support and financial incentives to promote asset accumulation among disadvantaged populations, and are an important policy strategy to reduce economic inequality.
This symposium includes four papers assessing wealth inequality from a unique perspective of asset depletion, and examining the importance of inclusive and progressive asset-building programs on financial and non-financial outcomes.
The first paper uses the data from Health and Retirement Study to examine asset depletion after the 2007 recession among older adults homeowners, and indicates that the assets of women and racial minorities fared far worse during the recession and the subsequent recovery. The second and third papers suggest that both a universal Child Savings Account program in Israel and a progressive Individual Development Accounts in South Korea have positive impacts on asset accumulation. The fourth paper focuses on a statewide policy experiment of Child Development Accounts in the United States and examines the impacts of asset holding on multiple non-financial outcomes for parents and children (e.g., depression, parenting, educational expectations, and children's social-emotional development). Policy and practice implications of these findings will be discussed.