Urban Institute nonprofit social and economic policy research

Opportunity & Ownership Project

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The Urban Institute's Opportunity and Ownership project conducts policy research on assets, ownership, and opportunity for low- and middle-income families and disadvantaged populations.

Our work looks beyond traditional antipoverty programs and explores ways to encourage self-sufficiency. Owning assets such as savings, homes, pensions, and small businesses can strengthen a family’s safety net, sustain seniors in retirement, and give low-income Americans a foothold in the middle class.  

Key Findings

The Changing Wealth of American Families
The Great Recession had an especially severe impact on the wealth building of younger Americans and families of color. Even before the financial crisis, however, young Americans were accumulating less wealth than their parents, and families of color were less wealthy than white families. Each year, the federal government spends hundreds of billions of dollars to support long-term asset development. But these funds do not seem to be reaching the people who need help the most. Policies that promote wealth-building at all stages of life can provide a path to better opportunities for all Americans.

Research on Non-Bank Loans and Financial Services
Millions of Americans, especially those with low-incomes, use alternative financial sector (AFS) loans—such as payday loans, car title loans, and refund anticipation loans—to meet their short-term needs. These loans often start out small, but can add up to significant debt burdens and can undermine families' ability to build assets. Our research reports on the benefits and risks of these loans, who uses them and why, and how to meet the credit needs of low-income families.

Research on Homeownership

Featured Book from the Opportunity and Ownership Project

Asset Building and Low-Income Families

Edited by Signe-Mary McKernan and Michael Sherraden

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Shared Equity Research
Owning a home is associated with many benefits, but the recent foreclosure crisis has shown that many of our policies implemented to increase homeownership rates are not sustainable, and may have done more harm than good. Homeownership programs with long-term affordability controls present one potential solution. These programs provide homeownership opportunities to income-eligible families who buy homes at below-market prices. The appreciation that can be earned by resellers is limited to preserve the homes' affordability at resale.

Asset Building and Low-Income FamiliesSigne-Mary McKernan and Michael Sherraden, editors
The first comprehensive book to assemble and evaluate what is known about asset building for the poor. The authors also chart directions for future research and set the stage for new asset policies that may include low-income households.

Do Assets Help Families Cope with Adverse Events?Signe-Mary McKernan, Caroline Ratcliffe, and Katie Vinopal
Going beyond anecdotes, this study finds evidence that assets do help families cope with serious financial changes, such as job loss, a health crisis, or a parent leaving the family. This brief examines how and how much assets cushion the blow of these setbacks, finding that adequate assets matter for families of all income levels.

Why Not a "Super Simple" Saving Plan for the United States?Pamela Perun, C. Eugene Steuerle
Despite decades of significant tax subsidies for pensions and retirement accounts, most Americans retire with little or no savings. The "Super Simple" saving plan laid out here—a basic, low-cost, easily administrable plan—could significantly increase retirement assets for moderate- and middle-income adults. The plan features simpler rules, automatic contribution for employees who don't opt out, and a significant government match.