2018 News

New textbook focuses on financially vulnerable families

“Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.” — James Baldwin (1960)

The first textbook to focus on financially vulnerable households is now available from Oxford University Press. “Financial Capability and Asset Building in Vulnerable Households: Theory and Practice” teaches about financial capability and asset building (FCAB) through the stories of four families whose lives unfold over 23 chapters.

The authors are Margaret S. Sherraden, Julie Birkenmaier and J. Michael Collins. Building on more than 20 years of research, they set the stage with key concepts, historical antecedents and current financial challenges of families in America.

The book offers tools to students, social workers, financial counselors and human services professionals for building assets in low-income households, beyond simply stabilizing income. It focuses on how practitioners can improve financial capability and build assets in vulnerable households through direct interventions. It also encourages practitioners to advance financial services, policies and programs that benefit vulnerable populations.

Other texts on household finance have a middle- to upper-income focus, according to Oxford University Press. But the financial challenges and choices of financially secure families are very different from those of financially vulnerable families.

“Low-income families can’t afford financial advisers for planning and problem solving,” Sherraden says. “They are on their own, making the best decisions they can — in a financial system that does not serve them very well, and sometimes exploits them.”

Sherraden is a research professor at Washington University in St. Louis and professor emeritus at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She co-directs with Birkenmaier the FCAB initiative at the Center for Social Development, at Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work. Birkenmaier is a professor at the Saint Louis University School of Social Work.

“This book is for the students who have passion for improving the financial lives for all people,” says Collins, who is associate professor of public affairs and consumer finance at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology and La Follette School of Public Affairs.

Robert Giloth, vice president of the Center for Economic Opportunity at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, calls the book a “comprehensive resource for front-line professionals and policymakers.”

“Chapters combine data analysis, historical background, and powerful conceptual frameworks, defining terms like financial capability, explaining budgets and debt, and prompting further practical reflection and application,” he says.

“Challenges and solutions are discussed in the context of the financial decisions facing real families. This timely book fills a real gap.”