Access, Assets and Poverty

Jointly sponsored by the National Poverty Center, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan and the Ford Foundation.

October 11-12 , 2007
Washington, DC.

Conference main page | Agenda and papers


The National Poverty Center (NPC) and the Ford Foundation, will sponsor a research conference to be held in Washington, DC, in the Fall of 2007. The program organized by Rebecca Blank and Michael Barr on behalf of the NPC, will bring together in one project a set of papers that cover a diverse set of topics relating to the financial lives of low income families.


The project will feature ten papers by leading social scientists who are experts on issues relating to saving, investment, asset accumulation, financial education and management, credit, insurance and financial services within poor communities and among poor individuals. These scholars were commissioned by the National Poverty Center to explore key aspects of asset accumulation and access to financial services among low-income families and individuals, including the policy implications of existing research and knowledge.

A major public policy conference on strategies for reducing the number of unbanked and underbanked families and promoting asset building among low-income households in the U.S. will be held on October 11-12, 2007 in Washington, D.C.

Specifically, the project is designed to:

  • To expand the depth and breadth of existing knowledge. These papers will coalesce and summarize existing research in their area and will push forward with new data, knowledge and analysis.
  • To discuss comparative policy options across these different areas. Each paper will be asked to explicitly address the policy implications of existing research and knowledge. The conference discussion will help bring together these policy ideas and can produce a new and expanded policy agenda within this area.
  • Develop specific policy recommendations to present to policymakers. The final conference will be held in Washington, D.C. to coincide with Congress’s budget finalization for the fiscal year and planning for new initiatives for the following year. Dissemination efforts will also include policy-focused research briefs that we will distribute to policymakers.

High cost financial services, barriers to saving, the lack of insurance, and credit constraints may contribute to on-going poverty among families. This project is designed to help us better understand the extent to which low-income families face financial constraints that shape their behavior.

Low-income individuals often lack access to adequate financial services at a reasonable cost and with appropriate consumer protections (Caskey 1994; Barr 2004.) Without mainstream financial services, low income families face higher transfer costs and may find it more difficult to save and to plan financially for the future. Living paycheck-to-paycheck leaves them vulnerable to medical or job emergencies that may endanger their financial stability. Lack of savings undermines their ability to improve skills, become a homeowner, and build wealth. Inadequate access to financial services also diminishes the value of government income transfer programs and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Thinking cohesively about the range of financial services and wealth accumulation needs of low-income households is important because these areas are functionally related. Saving is a form of self-insurance. Insurance smoothes income and consumption, and protects savings and income against catastrophic shocks, but insurance is also a substitute for savings and so provides incentives not to save. Credit smoothes income and consumption and can provide insurance against short-term shocks, but imprudent credit can destroy asset creation. Savings are needed to access credit, and credit, in turn, can assist asset accumulation; bad credit, however, can block access to savings vehicles (e.g., bank accounts).

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This event is by invitation only.

Accommodations and travel

Hotel accomodations are with the Georgetown University Conference Hotel at Georgetown University, located at 3800 Reservoir Road, NW, Washington, D.C. 20057.

The NPC’s room block at the conference hotel is limited to speakers only. We cannot reserve rooms for general conference participants, so we encourage you to secure your own accommodations as necessary.

For more information

Please contact the National Poverty Center at