Below is an article co-authored by Delaware Gov. Jack Markell and Karen Keogh, Head of Global Philanthropy for JPMorgan Chase. This appeared in the Huffington Post on April 29, 2016.
It is no surprise that one of the top issues debated in the presidential primaries is financial security. In spite of rising employment statistics, census data shows that the median household income of Americans is $53,657, with African-Americans at $35,398 and Hispanics at $42,491. For the world’s richest nation, these numbers suggest that while the majority of Americans are employed, their income may not be adequate to cover their daily expenses, let alone save for home ownership, post-secondary education, and retirement — core elements of what many consider to be the American Dream.
In fact, Americans across all income levels are facing a significant level of financial volatility and, on average, come up $1,800 short when faced with a large, unexpected expense. This level of financial insecurity of working families not only hurts individuals, but also impacts the vitality of their communities and the productivity of the broader economy, while putting a strain on taxpayer-funded government assistance programs.
In a time when consensus has been absent from the public discourse, the theme of economic inequality and lack of economic mobility transcends party and ideology. It’s on the hearts and minds of the American people and every presidential candidate who is pledging to address this major challenge to the well-being of our nation.
But even beyond the political stage, we hear from leaders in business who are concerned about the debilitating impact of financial stress on their workers and its effect on performance and the bottom line. Community college administrators worry about excessive dropout rates, as students are forced to choose a full-time job over education and a degree in order to contend with their day-to-day financial priorities.
Clearly economic insecurity is everyone’s issue: policy makers, business leaders, and educators, not to mention the millions of Americans who wrestle with it every day.
This concern, voiced by so many stakeholders throughout our communities, is a call to action to come together to address the root cause of financial insecurity — something we’ve seen addressed in Delaware through a unified public private partnership which is the backbone of $tand By Me, a statewide financial empowerment program celebrating its fifth anniversary. By mobilizing businesses, educators, state agencies, non-profits, and financial institutions to work together, we have a unique opportunity to address the issue in a holistic way. Given the magnitude of the problem and the stress felt by households, a unified and innovative approach may be the only way to generate the muscle needed to induce change.
One of the most promising and cost-effective solutions is one-on-one financial coaching focused on reducing debt, improving credit scores, finding aid to fund higher education, and filing taxes. Most importantly, coaching can be integrated into programs and organizations across a broad spectrum, making it easily accessible to a wide range of constituencies including workers, students, aspiring homeowners, immigrants and retirees. And frequently it is combined with offering safe, affordable financial products like pay day loan alternatives offered by non-profits.
In Delaware, the state and United Way of Delaware are joined by JPMorgan Chase and hundreds of other organizations from the public, private, and non-profit sectors to offer $tand By Me, which is helping people recover from hard times – people like Monique Pochvatilla, a Delawarean who, after growing up in foster care, was struggling with debt and her bills while raising her young children and trying to find a good job. Today, she has improved her credit, found a good job and bought her first house.
The program found a home on college campuses and at places of work, where administrators and employers recognized the value to their students and employees. In doing so, they made the initiative accessible while costing little to taxpayers because businesses, foundations, and corporate donors foot the bill.
Community college administrators say it has helped increase retention, while employers say their workers are more productive.
In just the past few years, more than 30,000 participants have received a mix of private coaching, group workshops, and tailored services. Thousands have repaired their credit histories, adopted savings plans, and increased their earning potential by improving their employment situation or accessing post-secondary education.
$tand By Me is an example of how the private and public sector can work together to solve this issue at a time when government has fewer resources to deploy.
Today’s economic environment requires similar approaches across the country to make these types of services available on a national scale, bringing financial security to our middle class and those who strive for it.
In an age of campaigns that depend on pithy soundbites and hard-hitting television ads, keeping the spotlight on inequality, lack of mobility, and meaningful policies and partnerships to address these very real challenges is of paramount importance.
Jack Markell is the governor of Delaware. Karen Keogh is the Head of Global Philanthropy for JPMorgan Chase.
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