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Signe-Mary McKernan
Vice President, Labor, Human Services, and Population
Codirector, Opportunity and Ownership initiative
Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population
We all need public and private safety nets to help us in tough times and to get ahead. Big changes are needed to reduce inequality and improve safety nets, but even small steps can create real improvements for today’s struggling families. I believe in the importance of nonpartisan research and love collaborating with the hundreds of Urban Institute experts to inform policy, programs, and the public. Wealth isn’t just for the wealthy. Wealth is where opportunity lies.

Signe-Mary McKernan is vice president for labor, human services, and population. She is a national wealth and financial well-being expert with two decades of experience researching access to assets and credit and the impact of wealth-building programs and policies on family well-being. She coedited the book Asset Building and Low-Income Families, coauthored a chapter in The Oxford Handbook of the Economics of Poverty, and advised the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in setting up its research unit.

Before joining Urban in 1999, she was lead economist on credit issues at the Federal Trade Commission. She has been a visiting professor at Georgetown University and served on the US Financial Health Pulse Advisory Council, the SafetyNet CUNA Independent Advisory Board, and EPIC’s Consumer Debt Advisory Board.

McKernan has extensive experience leading large projects and using rigorous econometric methods, randomized controlled trials, and administrative and survey data. Her research has been published in books, policy briefs, reports, and refereed journals including the Journal of Public Economics, American Economic Association Papers and ProceedingsDemography, and Review of Economics and Statistics. She has testified before Congress and the District of Columbia Council and been cited in media outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post,Forbes, and Time.

Her consumer finance research includes credit health during the COVID-19 pandemic, debt, wealth disparities and solutions, matched savings accounts, financial products and services, and the alternative financial sector. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and a doctoral degree in economics from Brown University.

Research Areas
Wealth and financial well-being
Social safety net
Race and equity
Taxes and budgets
Economic mobility and inequality
Inequality and mobility
Opportunity and ownership
Community and economic development
Racial barriers to accessing the safety net
Asset and debts
Credit availability
Economic well-being
Families with low incomes
Family credit and debt
Family savings
Financial knowledge and capability
Financial products and services
Financial stability
Racial and ethnic disparities
Racial wealth gap
Wealth inequality
Featured Work