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According to new research by Oregon State University, a majority of Americans live in “asset poverty,” meaning they have few or no assets to rely on in the event of a financial crisis such as job loss or a medical emergency. Lacking assets like vehicles, homes, savings accounts, or investments, families are often unable to cope with crises without sacrificing basic needs like food, clothing and shelter. Additionally, a growing body of research suggests that parents’ asset levels also predict their children’s educational expectations and academic achievement, including their likelihood of enrolling in and graduating from college.

More than 30% of Oregonians experience asset poverty—one of the highest reported rates in the country—and the state has an exceptionally high rate of homelessness. In Oregon, poverty is a key defining issue separating the have-nots from the haves, or put another way, those who increasingly owe from those who increasingly own. Despite the gains since the Great Recession, the economic forecast is disheartening for Millennials with high debt loads and low earning potential, as well as for children who grow up in single-parent households.

In a political environment that focuses more often on “income inequality” than on “wealth inequality” as a key determinant of economic well-being, are we, the American public, ignorant of the real underlying issue that prevents people from achieving the “American Dream”? If policy prescriptions aimed at reducing poverty narrowly frame the issue in terms of income, do our elected leaders underutilize opportunities to ameliorate poverty through asset accumulation that could lead to greater self-sufficiency?

 

David Rothwell will define and discuss asset poverty as a key indicator for understanding American economic vitality. Afterwards, he will participate in a panel discussion with John Haines and Sven Gatchev. They administer Mercy Corps’ Community Investment Trust initiative, which provides a low-barrier investment opportunity for working class Americans to invest in commercial real estate.

 

David Rothwell is Assistant Professor of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University. He earned an MSW from Tulane University and a PhD in Social Welfare from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. His research interests include poverty, families, and social policy. He has published on topics that include financial education and child asset poverty.

 

John Haines is the Executive Director of the Community Investment Trust with Mercy Corps Global Innovations Team. Before joining Mercy Corps as Executive Director of their local economic development affiliate, Mercy Corps Northwest, he was vice president of ShoreBank Pacific, a start-up sustainable development bank based in Portland, Oregon.

 

Sven Gatchev is the Operations Manager for the Community Investment Trust. He earned an MBA from the UO Lundquist College of Business, where he was a Technology Entrepreneurship Fellow.