Asset Accumulation and Older Adults

Amanda S. Barusch (2013): Asset Accumulation and Older Adults, Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 56:1, 1-5

FOCUS ON ASSETS GIVES A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON FINANCIAL VULNERABILITY

Social workers concerned about financial vulnerability generally focus on income support. This is natural. Definitions of poverty and inequality are generally based on income; besides, our professional turf and our advocacy efforts revolve around income supports for the poor and near-poor.

However, the Center for Social Development (CSD) at Washington University takes a different tack. At a fascinating conference last month, CSD and the Friedman Center for Aging brought together experts from nonprofits, government, and universities to consider research, programs, and policies that support asset accumulation across the lifespan. The papers presented at the conference will be available through CSD. Here, I hope to pique your interest with a few highlights.

Asset Accumulation: A Lifespan Perspective

A dominant model holds that Americans accumulate wealth during their working years, and then “decumulate” during retirement (Brown, 2011). This idealized curve is illustrated in Figure 1. As Tyson Brown and others at the conferences demonstrated, the curve may describe the White experience, but wealth accumulation by people from historically disadvantaged groups is severely limited. Brown combined data from the National LongitudinalStudy of Youth and the Health and Retirement Study to describe the net worth of African Americans over the lifespan, which more closely approximated a flat line. Indeed, our nation’s massive wealth disparities clearly reveal the discrepancy between privilege and disadvantage in America’s winner-take-all economy.

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