Born to Score

Born on Third Base: What the Forbes 400 Really Says About Economic Equality and Opportunity in America, United for a Fair Economy. 2012, 12 pp.

The release of United for a Fair Economy (UFE) report Born on Third Base: What the Forbes 400 Really Says About Economic Equality and Opportunity in America, coincided with the release of the Forbes 400, an annual list of the U.S.’s wealthiest individuals. What is striking, if not surprising, is that most of the members in this elite club are not self-made billionaires but, as the title denotes, started out “on third base,” to use a baseball analogy. They come from wealthy families with access to opportunities and advice, are mostly white, and are part of the good ol’ boy network. Based on family, inheritance, tax laws, and other federal policies, it is almost impossible for them not to succeed and grow increasingly wealthy. Little more needs to be said about this point.

What does this mean for the rest of us? “The truth is that Americans have never had an equal opportunity to become wealthy,” notes the report. “Rather than concocting fables about our ‘opportunity society,’ the editors of Forbes should be examining the birthright privileges enjoyed by many of those on the list.” The report highlights the inequalities of wealth in this country, discusses how wealth is made in America and acknowledges the structure of the system we currently live in. It also highlights and suggests policies, products, and tools that can increase the opportunity for low- and moderate-income families to move up the ladder and make inequality less pronounced.

In the concluding section of the report, UFE suggests ways of “leveling up” policies to really create wealth opportunities for all Americans. Practitioners in the asset-building field would agree that jobs with a living wage, access to post-secondary education without lifelong indebtedness, and promoting asset accumulation through savings, homeownership, and retirement security are good ideas.

Beyond those policies, specific tools and products to expand opportunity for low- and moderate-income families could include children’s savings accounts at birth with some initial “seed” deposit to expand post-secondary enrollment and completion; expanded employer-based savings for emergencies, large asset purchases, and for retirement; and a suite of financial mainstream products to allow families to utilize market-rate lending with responsible fees, rather than predatory products. While we can demonstrate that many of the Forbes 400 start on third base, these are some of the steps that can help low-income families at least get to first base.

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