The Prosperity Now Scorecard, a comprehensive resource for data on household financial health and policy recommendations was released earlier this year. With data by location, issue, and a new data set disaggregated by race and disability, users can access free customizable reports to get a sense of the financial health of their state and local communities. For CDFIs, this data can be a true asset in conversations about creating transformational change in the communities they serve. As Andrea Levere, president, Prosperity Now, put it in a recent conversation with CDFI Connect, "People's financial lives go across a continuum. If you picture the risk-return continuum, you start with the lowest-risk activities (short-, medium- and long-term savings for now, soon and later) and might take on short-term debt, but only address shorter-term challenges. By linking CDFIs with asset-building organizations, we can address the higher-risk, longer-term part of the continuum, and we can do so much more effectively together than separately. The Scorecard provides unique insights into capital, debt equity and savings, and allows you to examine these concepts within the unique contexts of different communities."
We sat down with Andrea to get a better sense of the Scorecard and the way CDFIs can tap this data to bridge conversations with local allies and policymakers.
Let’s start with an introduction. What is the Scorecard?
We created the Scorecard starting in 1992 because we felt it was critical to do three things. First, we wanted to put in one place the data that track how well people are doing on the mainstream economic areas like employment, as well as pull together data on our focus areas like wealth creation and financial security. Through the Scorecard, we created new metrics which have been transformative in terms of how we talk about financial security. The liquid asset poverty indicator, for example, frames how households are truly dealing with their level of financial risk, and how that risk impacts the ways they conduct their lives.
Second, we wanted to make the data and analysis accessible to practitioners, lenders, investors, and policymakers. So, we made it all free and we made it all user-friendly. The Scorecard makes it possible and easy for people and organizations across the US to tailor data to their own sectors or situations in order to educate local stakeholders and influence policymaking.
Third, we want these data to be used as a tool for creating hope—hope that we really can make things better. To accomplish this, the Scorecard pairs outcome metrics with well-researched, proven policies that are vetted by our state and local policy experts.
What is new in this year’s Scorecard?
Given our focus on the racial wealth divide, we have disaggregated more than a third of the outcome measures by race. This means that you can take 20 or so outcome measures for local places with populations of above 1,000 and see now only how households fare overall, but also how households of color—Black households, Hispanic households, Native households and more—are doing financially. For instance, I recently delivered a keynote address at Yale School of Management’s philanthropy conference, and in that presentation, I was able to compare measures in the US, in Connecticut and in New Haven, and I could show how even in issue areas where households seemed to be doing well, families of color lagged well behind White households.
Editor’s Note: The Scorecard also disaggregates several data measures by disability status for the first time this year, revealing the unique ways in which people with disability are struggling financially.
Where there any surprising findings in this edition?
We delayed the 2017 Scorecard for six months because federal data on household net worth was delayed. As a result, the 2018 Scorecard was released just six months after the 2017 edition, meaning there wasn’t much that was surprising in terms of outcomes. But, we had to grapple with the fact that there was a lot of new policy data.
The new policy data lead us to explore the narratives we hear that attempt to explain why people are poor. We wanted to really go after the misconception that people are poor because of their own poor choices. We brought our policy work in direct alignment with the data to show that it is actually policy barriers (one after the other, and many of which go back centuries) that are responsible for poverty. Looking at the narrative and the implications for what we do that can be effective has been remarkably useful, both in terms of shifting the narrative and in terms of making better policy choices.
Why is the Scorecard such a great tool specifically for CDFIs?
These data are so useful for linking financial inclusion for a holistic response to poverty on the local level. For instance, we have partnered with Homewise to help their borrowers create a mortgage reserve account, thus building up the emergency savings that the Scorecard tells us 44% of households do not have. Affordable housing is a great example because it is an incredible platform for doing other incredible things, like getting people banked, linking them to financial capability programs and resources, and ultimately addressing their financial challenges holistically, instead of just addressing one pain point.
The Scorecard is also a tool to connect local investors and policymakers to create a comprehensive plan. Advocates and CFDI practitioners can use the Scorecard to spark conversations with regulators, legislators and others to make the case for what they need to better serve their communities. When you look at small businesses, for example, the Scorecard has a robust index on businesses and jobs, also disaggregated by race. CDFIs can use the tool to understand the demographics behind new businesses and gain insights into the policies in place to support these entrepreneurs. If, in fact, the overwhelming majority of financing comes from family and friends, where are entrepreneurs of color going to get their initial capital? CDFIs can ask these questions to start conversations about what needs to be done to create the startup capital or equity that is essential to small business’ success.
In the CDFI community, who should we be looking to as an example of how to do that well?
The Native CDFI Network started a decade or two later than many of the CDFIs today, yet many of them began asset-building programs from the get-go. So, these CDFIs are a model for doing the work of building financial health by combining elements of debt and savings. They embrace the concept that building equity creates equity.
Another fabulous example is ROC USA. Our biggest partnership is with ROC USA; we are one of the founders. In fact, our first equity investment ever made with ROC USA aligned with our national I’M HOME initiative. We put an initial equity investment into ROC USA and I have been Chair of their Board of Directors since the social enterprise was founded in 2008. We align our policy work in support of ROC USA's mission, which is to give manufactured housing residents the right to bid on the land on which their homes sit if the property goes up for sale. These cooperative resident-ownership models have been codified in both New Hampshire (where ROC USA is based) and Massachusetts, and states across the country are seeing the value of working with ROC USA to finance community purchases.
Can you share a success story of how the data has been used in the past to affect positive change?
One of my favorite examples is in Dallas. At least five years ago, the City of Dallas commissioned a Scorecard profile to identify how residents there were faring financially. Most recently, Dallas was the second-poorest large city in America after Philadelphia, so there were people interested in creating savings opportunities there, but there wasn’t a robust asset-building coalition. The Scorecard profile galvanized the city around the need to create pathways to financial stability. We helped the Dallas mayor and the president of Citibank host a convening that really dug into the challenges surrounding liquid asset poverty in the city. The public television station there, KERA, did a spotlight that showed households you would consider middle class were actually just one crisis away from financial disaster. This led to a series of stories demonstrating household examples of “one crisis away” (illness, job loss, retiring without the right amount of savings) that became incredibly well-regarded and later led to a town hall meeting in which organizations working on a range of issues from housing to free tax prep came together to identify solutions. This really created a profound change in the community, and it all started with a Scorecard data profile.
That sounds incredible. How can other cities and states use the Scorecard to replicate the success Dallas has seen?
There’s a whole range of ways—some high-touch, some low-touch—cities and states can leverage the Scorecard data. A low-touch way is to visit the Scorecard website, scorecard.prosperitynow.org, to read the main findings report and create customized profiles for their cities or states. With a few clicks of a mouse, you can compare your city or state, break down data by race or disability status, and see what states are doing—or should be doing—to help their residents thrive.
For CDFIs, philanthropic organizations, community groups, advocacy groups and others that are looking to take their efforts to the next level, they can work with Prosperity Now’s researchers and policy experts to craft a policy agenda, develop their own profile like the one we did for Dallas, receive technical assistance and more. All you need to do to get started is to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
No matter where a city or a state is in the quest to strengthen households’ financial security, the Scorecard shows us that there’s more work to do. So, we’d relish the opportunity to partner together, especially with CDFIs, to take the next steps together.