These are excerpts from my remarks during the release event for the Family Assets Count Data Snapshot for Oakland and Alameda County today, in partnership with the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), Citi Community Development, Alameda County Community Asset Network (ACCAN) and Urban Strategies Council.
The planning and development of this profile and report have been a great learning experience for me. Repeatedly examining data on family financial status over the past few months has been an indirect immersion experience.
As we indicate in the report, the data are sobering. Low and moderate income families face almost insurmountable challenges in providing for themselves and their children, given the stark reality of the mismatch between housing costs and income levels. It is remarkable that as many low- and middle-income families survive as well as they do in these circumstances.
The review of the data, the search for strategies to improve conditions and writing of this report caused me to reflect on my own experiences, growing up in a small Midwestern town in working class family in the late 50’s and 60’s. My parents, a custodian and a nurse’s aid, were able to buy a home, raise six children, provide for our materials needs and often our wants as well, save a little, send all their kids to college and graduate four of them, three of them with advanced degrees. How different it is for families today, especially in the East Bay. Unlike my parents’ generation, whose beliefs in the system and hard work were rewarded, a family today cannot work hard enough, no matter how much they try to obtain the rewards of my parent’s generation. We must work to change that. Hard work and playing by the rules should always be rewarded
What the data in this report reveal about family financial well-being cause me to describe the situation as an “unnatural disaster”. It is an unnatural disaster because it is human made; it is largely the result of economic and other policy decisions and actions that fail to consider the condition of low-income people and balance the needs of the wealthy with the needs of everyone else. If human conduct created this disaster, then human conduct can reverse it.
And just as we would respond to a natural disaster with a declaration of a state of emergency, mobilize and deploy financial and human resources to the victims of the disaster and, then, reflect on how we can prevent or mitigate its impacts in the future, we must similarly respond to the unnatural disaster of family financial insecurity. I want to highlight two areas of the report that are especially important in terms of moving forward; the agenda for family financial security (p.2) and existing effective efforts (p.7).
Agenda for FAMILY financial security
We must pursue a combination of structural and programmatic reforms to help families move out of poverty, stay out of poverty and create financial stability.
We offer a modest beginning to what needs to be a long and sustained effort to provide for the financial security of families as a first priority and matter of course. The strategies include the following:
- Provide Comprehensive and Integrated Services
- Encourage Financial Capability at All Ages
- Existing Effective Efforts
- Expand Protection and Uptake of Working Family Tax Credits
- Protect Consumers from Predatory Practices
- Increase Sustainable Wage Employment
- Preserve and Increase Healthy, Affordable Housing
- Provide Pathways for Entrepreneurs
Existing Effective Efforts
Although the data are sobering, there are models and practices that can and do work to strengthen economic opportunity. Economic resilience for Oakland and Alameda County families will require coordinated, strategic partnerships that build from the wealth of existing programs, some of which are listed on page 7 of the report.
I describe the people working on the front lines of family financial security in two ways. First borrowing from the public health field, they are the primary prevention team, working with families and residents before the crisis in efforts to prevent it. They are also “first responders” to the unnatural disaster we face in terms of family financial insecurity with first aid, comfort and support for families. Programs and strategies we highlight in the report include:
Comprehensive and Integrated Services
- The Fremont Family Resource Center (FRC)
- Game Theory Academy (GTA)
- Inner City Advisors (ICA) and Fund Good Jobs
- Mission Asset Fund (MAF)
- Rubicon Programs
- United Way of the Bay Area (UWBA)
- East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC)
- The Oakland Community Land Trust (OakCLT)
Advocacy and Policy Change
- The California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC)
- The East Bay Community Law Center’s Consumer Justice Clinic
- Alameda County Department of Social Services (SSA): Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites
- City of Oakland: The Oakland Promise
- Local Minimum Wage Ordinances in Oakland and Berkeley
Our financial security agenda is only a beginning; some core ideas to get us started on the long journey to family financial security. There are many other effective programs, services and initiatives out there. We need to weave our efforts together, grow effective programs and policies to scale and make family financial security a major priority of government and business. The absence of family financial security means the absence of economic security across the region and the nation.