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Kids Count Commentary Series Part 4: Supporting Working Families – Assets

On January 29th, Voices for Children released the 22nd annual Kids Count in Nebraska Report. This year’s report is our biggest and most comprehensive edition to date. Every year in the Kids Count report, we include a timely commentary providing a deeper look at an issue important to the work we do here at Voices. In this year’s commentary topic, we took a look at how our state can support working families. Today, the fourth post in the commentary series explores Nebraska families’ assets. Check out the first three posts in the series: employment and income, poverty and the family bottom line, and worker benefits.

Assets

Assets are another measure of a family’s financial security. Assets are resources, like a home or savings account, that help support longer term financial stability. Financial crises such as job losses, medical emergencies, and car or home repairs are inevitable, and without assets, a family’s financial security can be very vulnerable. Asset poverty expands the definition of poverty to include those who do not have 3 months’ of living expenses at the poverty level in assets such as savings or property/business ownership. In Nebraska, 18.5% of people experience asset poverty with 10.2% being extremely asset impoverished. These families can experience a detrimental blow when experiencing a financial crisis.

Nearly every parent’s dream is for their children to have a better, easier life than they had, especially financially, but with the current structure of the U.S. economy the current generation of teenagers is likely to be less successful than their parents. Income alone is not enough to progress in our economy. It takes assets like homes, businesses, savings and education. The U.S. government has a long history of helping families build assets through programs like the Homestead Act, G.I. bill, home mortgage deductions and 401k and IRA retirement programs. Unfortunately, these policies are skewed to provide an advantage for those who are already wealthy. Low-income households that do not make enough money to itemize deductions receive almost nothing from these policies.

Families participating in public benefit programs have long been subjected to “asset tests” to determine eligibility. For a family who had previously been able to accrue retirement savings, a job loss and the need for temporary public assistance can mean being required to liquidate resources intended for longer term financial security. Nebraska has taken steps in recent years to reform asset tests, but for those participating in the child care subsidy and Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) programs, very low limits remain in place.

Homeownership

Homeownership accounts for the largest component of household wealth in the United States and accounts for a great share of wealth particularly for lower- and middle-income households. Homeownership also has benefits for the community: it stabilizes neighborhoods and positively influences children’s health, well-being and education. In Nebraska, 63.5% of homes are owned by the residents, equal to the U.S. rate of homeownership. The rate of homeownership varies significantly based on race with white non-Hispanic Nebraskans having a much higher rate of ownership than people of color.

Homeowners also have lower rates of high housing cost burden than renters. 24.3% of homeowners spent over 30% of their income on monthly owner costs compared to 42.8% of renters spending more than 30% of their income monthly on housing costs.

Education

Post-secondary education is one of the most valuable assets that has a significant impact on lifetime earnings and economic mobility. Educational capital can also be passed down to future generations with children more likely to attend and graduate from college if their parents attended.

Those with a higher education experience lower unemployment with an unemployment rate of 4% nationally for workers with a bachelor’s degree, lower than the national average of 6.1%, compared to 7.5% for those with just a high school diploma. In Nebraska the importance of post-secondary education is becoming greater and greater. When looking at employment by industry in 1990 to 2014, jobs that require some type of post-secondary education experienced significant growth. Industries like education and health services and professional and business services have grown, whereas jobs that do not require post-secondary education but typically offer a decent income and opportunity for advancement like manufacturing experienced great loss.

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