At the Center for Social Development, asset building has been our largest area of work. Indeed, CSD was started because this work required more than a single scholar. This growing body of work is a response to 20th century social policies that have emphasized income support. The asset building research at CSD is based on the simple idea that families also must accumulate assets for their long-term development through education, home ownership, enterprise, and other investments.
We define assets as accumulated resources invested for social and economic development. These investments can be in human or social capital, such as education, or tangible assets, such as homeownership, small business development and retirement savings. CSD informs inclusive asset-building policy by designing, implementing and researching large-scale demonstrations of asset-building policy strategies, such as Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), Child Development Accounts (CDAs) and progressive 529 college savings plans. These demonstrations include:
CSD also informs asset-building policy through the Southern Regional Asset Building Coalition.
Asset building in social policies continues to unfold. It seems likely that asset building policies—for retirement security, education, and other social development purposes—will play a larger role going forward. The crucial question is whether everyone will participate, and this has been CSD’s particular focus. The initial idea for IDAs in 1991 was for universal and progressive accounts, beginning as early as birth. IDAs were instead implemented as targeted, short-term programs, because this was politically feasible. We have learned a great deal from IDA research. This concept helped to make progressive asset building real, and started a policy discussions that continue—important steps but not enough. In recent years, CSD has worked very hard to return to the concept of inclusion in asset building—everyone is in, and the poor get the greatest subsidies. In that regard we have been testing CDAs, essentially the original concept for IDAs as universal and progressive, starting very early in life.