Alice P. Lin Memorial Lecture: Children’s Savings Accounts Can Foster Hope and Reduce Racial Wealth Gap

December 15, 2021 @ 8:57 pm

In the Dr. Alice P. Lin Memorial Lecture, Dr. William Elliott III argued that an asset revolution will be needed to change the unequal opportunity structure in the U.S.

In his 1936 renomination speech, Franklin Delano Roosevelt argued that a free society cannot simply provide enough to live by but must also foster “something to live for.” This quote and its emphasis on hope was a recurring theme in the November 11 Dr. Alice P. Lin Memorial Lecture, given by Dr. William Elliott III, professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work and founding director of Michigan’s Center on Assets, Education, and Inclusion.

Dr. Elliott presented his research on Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs) and argued for how they can foster hope for a better future and help reduce the racial wealth gap by improving access to and returns on education. His presentation elaborated on the findings in his recent book Making Education Work for the Poor: The Potential of Children’s Savings Accounts (Oxford University Press, 2018), co-authored with Melinda Lewis.

CSAs are long-term savings accounts that are opened when a child is born, providing an asset-building mechanism for saving for postsecondary education, purchasing a home or opening a small business. Dr. Elliott advocates for governments to adopt CSAs as a policy and provide initial seed funding that is attentive to the social and economic inequality that each child faces. Such accounts can lead an “asset revolution” that helps level the playing field for marginalized communities by reducing mental health issues stemming from experiences of racial inequality in early childhood, improving college admissions rates, and providing a baseline for intergenerational wealth accumulation by Black and Latinx families.

Some words from Dr. Elliott:

“Educational aspirations play an important role in maintaining the American Dream. However, they may do little to change behavior when they do not line up with children’s lived experiences.”
“What makes CSAs the ideal vehicle for a wealth transfer isn’t their ability to help children pay for college. It is their ability to complement efforts to reduce inequality in early education, facilitate college completion, and improve post-college financial health.”

“Wealth gives you something to live for…You hope for things you do not yet have. Making hope tangible makes something far off feel close, requiring action now.”

“Changing our national culture so that we think about financing college when children are born, not when they graduate, will not be simple. … .We must be willing to free our minds, so that we can dare to make a better future for our children.”

Dr. Ronald B. Mincy, who also researches and publishes work on Black families and child well-being, moderated the discussion following the lecture and praised Elliott’s presentation, saying, “You have a very big vision, but you also get into the weeds.”

Dean Melissa Begg responded to Dr. Elliott’s lecture by adding, “I think we all knew, sadly, that the American Dream is not accessible to all, but your work to delineate how this works and how to fix it is incredibly motivating. I’m sure that many in the audience today will be getting involved in the ‘asset revolution’ based on your scholarship and your attention to translating that scholarship.”

Watch the full lecture and discussion here.

About the Dr. Alice P. Lin Memorial Lecture

Made possible by a generous gift from Dr. Nan Lin in honor of his wife, Dr. Alice P. Lin (MSW’78, DSW’85), the Dr. Alice P. Lin Memorial Lecture addresses research, issues, and trends in public policy and administration. Read more.