Opportunity and ownership
Assets, ownership, and opportunity for low- and moderate-income families

  • Home
  • About
  • Staff
  • Summary
    Why hasn’t wealth inequality improved over the past 50 years? And why, in particular, has the racial wealth gap not closed?

    Policy Centers Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population
    Research Areas Wealth and financial well-being

    Featured Experts
    Media Name: mckernan-signe-mary.jpg
    Vice President, Labor, Human Services, and Population
    Codirector, Opportunity and Ownership initiative


    Our Issues

    Wealth is not just for the wealthy. The poor can save—and their savings can accrue over time or provide collateral to borrow against, providing a way to move up and out of poverty. Assets such as savings, homes, pensions, and small businesses can strengthen a family’s safety net, sustain seniors in retirement, and give lower-income Americans a foothold on the economic ladder. Our experts inform, analyze, and evaluate wealth-building programs and policies, and recommend ways to improve families’ access to safe, affordable credit and financial products.

    Over the past 30 years, wealth inequality has worsened. Lack of wealth can handicap economic mobility and leave families exposed to financial risk, and growing inequality can weaken the economy. The federal government spends billions to support long-term asset-building—primarily to promote homeownership and retirement saving—but those dollars mostly go to higher-income families. We examine how existing policies can be more inclusive and how new policies can remove barriers to building wealth.

    Our Approach

    Our work looks beyond traditional antipoverty programs and explores ways to encourage self-sufficiency by helping low- and moderate-income people manage debt and build assets. We take a life-cycle perspective to our research, studying the stages of wealth building from children’s savings accounts and early financial literacy, through higher education and apprenticeships, to homeownership and retirement savings. Our initiative takes advantage of Urban's collaborative scholarship and breadth of work on asset-building, housing, tax, and retirement policy.

    Our Impact

    We are often called upon to testify before Congress and have presented our research before the Financial Literacy and Education Commission. We work closely with federal policymakers to help create wealth-building opportunities for low-income people. For example, we offered evidence used to protect the Assets for Independence program from a potential 63 percent cut. And, in a letter to Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, the Lower 9th Ward Homeownership Association referenced our research on the racial wealth gap in its call to release long-delayed Hurricane Katrina recovery funds. HUD approved the release of funds the following month, allowing New Orleans’s Ward 9 residents to begin rebuilding and return home.


    • Nonresident Senior Fellow
    • Principal Research Associate
    • Institute Fellow
    • Principal Research Associate
      Codirector, National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership
    • Senior Fellow
      Director, Program on Retirement Policy
    • Institute Fellow
    • Vice President, Labor, Human Services, and Population
      Codirector, Opportunity and Ownership initiative
    • Senior Fellow
    • Urban Institute Associate
    • Principal Research Associate
    • Policy Program Manager
    • Senior Fellow
      Codirector, DYNASIM Microsimulation Model
    • Institute Fellow and Richard B. Fisher Chair
    • Senior Fellow