Asset Building Financial Inclusion Working Paper

The Big Lift: Federal Policy Efforts to Create Child Development Accounts (CDAs)

Children’s accounts have been proposed as a means for creating an inclusive and accessible system for asset building throughout the life course. The idea gained traction in multiple settings, leading to a series of policies and demonstration projects across the globe. In the United Kingdom, the policy was adopted in the form of the Child Trust Fund program which began in 2005. a privately-funded project called the SEED Demonstration was launched in the United States in 2003. During this period a number of different children’s savings account policy proposals have been made at the federal level in the United States. The details of these proposals differ but as a group reflect the recognition by select policymakers of the promise of this intervention. In particular, it has the potential to seed the savings process, facilitate financial education, increase economic opportunity, promote social development, and begin a lifelong process of asset accumulation.

The introduction and evolution of this policy idea over the past five years has been instructive. It has indicated the types of policy design choices that will have to be addressed if this policy is to be implemented on a large scale. The big lift will not just be getting this idea further into policy discussions, but will entail the consideration of a wide range of complex implementation issues including how the system would be funded and administered. This paper describes, the policy development process to date, analyzes the policy design choices and tradeoffs, reviews policy insights from demonstration projects, and assesses how the shifting political landscape may influence future policy deliberations and create implementation opportunities in the U.S.

This paper was presented during Child Development Accounts: Research and Policy Symposium, a November 2008 conference, and was developed for publication in Child Development Accounts: Theory, Evidence, and Policy Potential, a special issue of Children and Youth Services Review. Released in November 2010, the special issue was edited by Michael Sharraden, Youngmi Kim, and Vernon Loke.

Subsequent publication: Cramer, R. (2010). The big lift: Federal policy efforts to create Child Development Accounts. Children & Youth Services Review, 32(11), 1538–1543. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2010.03.012

Project: SEED National Initiative


Cramer, R. (2009). The big lift: Federal policy efforts to create Child Development Accounts (CSD Working Paper No. 09-43). St. Louis, MO: Washington University, Center for Social Development.