Asset Building

The Forgotten 40 Percent

Time to remember the forgotten 40 percent, who lose most Capitol Hill battles.

As fiscal cliff discussions heat up, one thing that both sides seem to agree on is that the domestic discretionary budget is going to be cut dramatically. How dramatically, they disagree on, and that remains to be seen. As usual, the people who need the government the most are the ones who are going to come out of this the biggest losers.

These are the people who lose nearly every battle in Washington because no one is representing them. The Democrats sort of do, but even then, Democrats have to "balance" these people's interests against the interests of the institutions that finance their campaigns. The Republican Party, of course, has open contempt for these people.

I say all this by way of introducing you to the symposium in the most recent edition of the journal I edit, Democracy, and specifically a symposium we call "The Forgotten 40 Percent." Undertaken with the generous help of the Corporation for Enterprise Development, or CFED, the package looks at many aspects of life for the poor and near-poor and the working class and asks what we can do better. You can read it here.

The field is called asset-building, and one can think of it, if one prefers, in civil-rights terms. Of course beneficiaries of such policies are hardly only black or Latino. But helping poorer people own homes and save more, and protecting them from predatory lenders and such is clearly an economic justice battle made all the more urgent by the fact that in the financial meltdown, so many of these folks lost whatever meager wealth they had.

I learned a lot of things editing this package--for example, about what it's like not to have a normal bank to rely on and to have to resort to payday lenders. I learned a great deal from a really interesting article in the package on the special economic burdens placed on people who live in manufactured homes (trailer parks, although these days the houses are a lot nicer).

Tomorrow morning, Democracy and CFED are hosting an even at CFED's offices to discuss the issues raised in the symposium. CFED's Andrea Levere will introduce Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, who will deliver remarks, after which there will be a panel with three symposium contributors, moderated by Jim Tankersley of The National Journal.

It's booked, but there is a webinar, to which I'm told 300 people have subscribed, which strikes me as a highly respectable number. If you'd like to watch, sign up here. Thanks.