The White House Office of Public Engagement was pleased to host over 100 constituent groups at the White House on Thursday for an hour and a half meeting to discuss the need for improved financial capability (financial capability meaning the combination of financial literacy and financial access). Too many Americans lack, through education or access, the ability to create secure financial futures. In response, the Federal Government is working to develop a financially empowered population – one in which every American has the knowledge and access to build his or her own financial stability to save for a child’s education, a new home, a secure retirement.
We were pleased to have representatives from all the public, private, and non-profit sectors come to the table at the White House on Thursday to discuss these pressing issues. At the meeting, we heard from people from low-income communities where there are plenty of payday lenders but few (if any) full-service banks; we heard from representatives of students who are struggling to pay off student loans and are being bombarded by credit card companies offering further credit; we heard from immigrants from countries devastated by natural disasters who can’t get loans because they don’t have a credit history; and we heard from many other hard-working Americans facing significant financial challenges.
The Federal Government is taking important steps to improve financial capability in this nation. Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett recently announced that, for the first time ever, the White House is joining the multi-agency Financial Literacy and Education Commission. In addition, as Tina Tchen, Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement told the group gathered yesterday, financial capability and economic empowerment for women and girls is also one of the areas of focus for the interagency White House Council on Women and Girls. In the coming weeks, the FLEC will be putting a new "National Strategy for Financial Success" out for public comment and will be unveiling an entirely revamped financial capability website. The Department of the Treasury, in partnership with the Department of Education issued the National Financial Capability Challenge (an awards program designed to increase the financial knowledge and capability of high school aged youth), is working on a set of core competencies (like a food pyramid for personal finance), and is undertaking a number of efforts to increase financial access, including the "Bank On" initiative proposed in the President's FY11 budget. In addition, agencies throughout the Administration are working on and raising the profile of financial capability, particularly during the coming April (Financial Literacy Month), and the Administration looks forward to hosting events similar to Thursday’s meeting to continue the conversation with the American people.
While the government has an important role to play in these issues, we know that addressing them requires the collaborative involvement of non-profits, state and local governments, communities, and the private sector. The severity and prevalence of these challenges is alarming, and the need for our action is great. These challenges, though, represent an opportunity for all Americans to work together, community by community, neighbor by neighbor, and person by person, to build a nation that is stronger, more prosperous, and better-equipped to care for our individual and collective financial futures.
Elizabeth Vale is the Executive Director of the White House Business Council