Director, Opportunity and Ownership initiative
Low-income and minority families can acquire assets and become more financially secure if given the opportunity. Emergency savings, homes, and pensions can form a family's safety net and give low-income Americans a foothold in the middle class. Asset building is an important complement to our nation's largely income- and consumption-based social safety net. Yet the poor are frequently left out of asset-based policies because these subsidies are provided through the tax code.
Signe-Mary McKernan is a national wealth-building and poverty expert with nearly two decades of experience researching access to assets and credit and the impact of safety net programs. She directs the Urban Institute’s Opportunity and Ownership Initiative and published the book Asset Building and Low-Income Families with Michael Sherraden. She advised the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in setting up a first-rate research unit. Before joining the Urban Institute in 1999, she was lead economist on credit issues at the Federal Trade Commission. She has been a visiting and adjunct professor at Georgetown University.
McKernan has extensive experience leading large projects and using rigorous econometric methods, random control trials, and administrative and survey data to evaluate programs and policies. Her research has been published in books, policy briefs, reports, and refereed journals including the American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings, Demography, and Review of Economics and Statistics. She has testified before Congress, appeared on NBC4 (Washington, DC) and Al Jazeera, and been cited in media outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Forbes, and Time.
Her consumer finance research includes consumer debt, financial products and services, the impact of the Great Recession, racial wealth disparities, individual development accounts, homeownership, and the alternative financial sector. In her poverty-related work, she is evaluating the effectiveness of social programs in improving poverty and material hardship over the last 20 years. She has a PhD in economics from Brown University.
Research AreasHousing and Housing Finance Income and Wealth Poverty, Vulnerability, and the Safety Net Food and Nutrition Race and Ethnicity Gender and Sexuality
Brief Income and WealthApril 19, 2017
Brief Education and TrainingMarch 1, 2017
Research Report FamiliesGregory B. Mills, Signe-Mary McKernan, Caroline Ratcliffe, Sara Edelstein, Mike Pergamit, Breno Braga, Heather Hahn, Sam ElkinDecember 8, 2016
July 26, 2016
Research Report Poverty, Vulnerability, and the Safety NetCaroline Ratcliffe, Signe-Mary McKernan, Laura Wheaton, Emma Cancian Kalish, Catherine Ruggles, Sara Armstrong, Christina OberlinJune 29, 2016
Working Paper Income and WealthBreno Braga, Signe-Mary McKernan, Caroline Ratcliffe, Brett Theodos, John Chalekian, Christopher TrepelJune 27, 2016
Brief Education and TrainingApril 21, 2016
Brief Income and WealthDecember 16, 2015
September 29, 2015