Achieving Financial Capability for All: What Will It Take?
Millions of U.S. families find themselves in precarious financial circumstances. When they want to build financial security for their family, they have few places to turn for guidance and support. While well-to-do families buy financial and legal advice and benefit from policies that build financial security, disadvantaged families make do largely on their own.
In searching for solutions, one resource has so far been largely overlooked: Tens of thousands of community-based organizations and their staff that deliver support and services to vulnerable populations. These professionals are in the organizations that serve people from all walks of life. They understand the many and complex challenges facing people living on a low income, and just as importantly, they also appreciate their strengths and resources.
These human service professionals can be mobilized to improve the financial capability of disadvantaged populations by providing basic financial guidance and counseling, linking families to financial benefits and low-cost financial services, helping families handle debt, and referring people for specialized financial and legal assistance. Along with financial professionals and others, they can inform the design of financial products, services, and policies to benefit vulnerable families. This will require integrating financial capability curricula in human service degree programs, and creating effective financial capability delivery systems. A huge challenge, but one that would enable social workers and other human service workers to reach millions of lower income and disadvantaged families that today lack guidance and support.
Margaret Sherraden, PhD's current research focuses on adult and youth savings in the US and abroad, financial capability, and place-based community development. She also publishes on international volunteering and service, microenterprise, and immigrant birth outcomes. Professor Sherraden received the UM-St. Louis Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2004. During her tenure as President of the Missouri Association for Social Welfare (2000-2003), it celebrated a centennial, invested in a headquarters, and grew its endowment tenfold. Over several years, she has lived, worked, and conducted research overseas, including Mexico on a Fulbright fellowship, and in Puerto Rico and Singapore.
She is author of four books, including a forthcoming edited volume, Financial Capability: Research, Education, Policy, and Practice (with Julie Birkenmaier and Jami Curley), Oxford University Press; Striving to Save: Creating Policies for Financial Security of Low-Income Families (with Amanda M. McBride), University of Michigan Press, 2010; Kitchen Capitalism: Microenterprise in Poor Households (with Cynthia K. Sanders and Michael Sherraden), State University of New York Press, 2004; and Community Economic Development and Social Work (with William C. Ninacs, Eds), Haworth Press, 1998.