What Happened To The American Dream?

April 15, 2013 at 8:02 am Leave a comment

It took two extra holes for Adam Scott to become the first Australian to win the Masters, the most prestigious golf tournament in the world.  He beat out an aging Argentinian and, among others, an African-American superstar looking to make a comeback.  Go back just fifty years and the Masters would have been as diverse as a KKK convention.

Now, imagine twenty years from now if there are not great African-American golfers, if Hispanics simply stop playing the game and Australians don’t grow up dreaming of winning the Masters.  Everyone would lose.

That scenario is the single greatest danger facing our country today.  As institutions with a statutory and moral obligation to help people of modest means, credit unions have a unique opportunity to help ensure that we continue to promote the best and the brightest this country has to offer.  First, the statistics are depressing.  According to an annual survey recently released by the Department of Labor, an increasing number of those in poverty — 10.4 million out of more than 46 million — are in fact working but making little advancement in striving for more financial security.  In addition, there is increasing evidence that the stubborn growth of the working poor reflects declining social mobility in this country; a credible case can be made that Europe is becoming a better place for moving up the ladder of advancement than the United States.

If we are going to help people of modest means, our challenge is more complicated than it was when the credit union movement took hold.  Credit unions no longer have to be created because large groups of people are legally denied loans based on their race, social class or ethnicity.  Still, there is a stubbornly high number of people of modest means and the challenges they face can be just as daunting as those confronted by previous generations.  It is no longer enough just to provide financial products to the poor or those discriminated against, instead we must show how the products and services we offer provide the means of social mobility.

For example, the Labor Department study shows that the more education you have, the less likely you are to be among the working poor.  But at a time when education has never been so important, research shows that a growing number of qualified, low-income students are not even bothering to apply to the nation’s best colleges.  So credit unions should become defacto guidance counselors and have someone make a commitment to demystifying the all-too-confusing college loan process.  Imagine being the institution that helps the first person in a family to go to an Ivy League Institution.  That says more about helping people of modest means that statistics ever will.

The Labor Department statistics also show that the working poor are most likely to be single mothers.  Let’s face it, life is busy enough for most of us without having to worry about how we are going to put food on the table for our kids.  So let’s embrace technology not only as the latest trend in banking, but as a means of helping the working class maximize their time by using the computer and cell phone to do their banking.  And let’s even embrace pre-paid cards, but — and here’s the critical distinction — let’s embrace these technologies not as an end in themselves, but as means to get people over their fear of financial institutions and to start what we hope will be an increasingly involved and sophisticated relationship with a credit union.

The implicit message should be that we don’t just want your money, we want to help you succeed.

Entry filed under: Advocacy, General. Tags: , , , .

Updated: New York’s Levy And Restraint Laws: The Gift That Keeps On Giving GAO Report Frames Credit Union Tax Debate

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Authored By:

Henry Meier, Esq., General Counsel, New York Credit Union Association.

The views Henry expresses are Henry’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Association.

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