Lend for America

Here is a microlending program started by college students that is now on a number of campuses around the country. It’s called Lend for America.

The website says, “Our mission is to empower emerging leaders to build strong businesses and communities by providing equitable financial services to low-income individuals.

“With the right tools, college students can change the lives of their communities’ low-income families and gain a broader social perspective. The growth of campus microfinance will help disadvantaged individuals start and grow businesses, develop assets, increase their financial capacity and improve their economic well-being.”

When I first read about the initiative, I thought it meant college students helping college students. That still seems like a good idea, given that there are low-income students on campuses nationwide who could use some equitable loan options. Lend for America could be especially helpful at community colleges — kind of like a lending circle.

More here.


Low-Income High Achievers and College

Often it isn’t enough for a low-income high school grad who wants to go to college to have terrific grades. Many don’t know much about higher-education options or how to apply for financial aid — especially if they come from families where no one else has gone to college.

Fortunately, there are an increasing number of programs to provide the missing support. David Leonhardt at the NY Times reports on one such effort.

“The United States fails to do right by most low-income students who excel in school. They overcome long odds and do well enough in high school to show they can thrive in college. Nevertheless, many never receive a bachelor’s degree. Now, though, the country may be approaching something of a turning point.

“As data has made clear how many top-performing students from poor and middle-class families fall through the cracks, a range of institutions have set out to change the situation. Dozens of school districts, across 15 states, now help every high school junior take the SAT. Delaware’s governor has started a program to advise every college-qualified student from a modest background on the application process. The president of the College Board, which administers the SAT and has a decidedly mixed record on making college more accessible, says his top priority is college access.

“[Yesterday], a handful of institutions [announced] an ambitious new effort on this front. Led by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the coalition is setting a specific goal for which it can be held accountable. Today, only about one in three top-performing students from the bottom half of the income distribution attends a college with a high six-year graduation rate (at least 70 percent). Within five years, the Bloomberg coalition wants to raise that to one in every two students….

“The crux of the new effort will be college counselors, available to advise students on where and how to apply, both for admission and for financial aid. The coalition – which includes Khan Academy, the College Board, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and others – will ultimately hire 130 full-time counselors and enlist 4,000 college students as part-time advisers. Using video chat, email, telephone and text, they will mimic the support network — composed of guidance counselors, teachers, parents and friends — that more affluent high-school students take for granted.” Read all about the initiative here.


Formalized Lending Circles

It’s an old idea that keeps reinventing itself: the Lending Circle.

In a recent NY Times article about today’s version, Patricia Cohen focuses on how lending circles can help someone get a better credit score.

“Shweta Kohli has always paid her own way. Her straight-A average won her a full scholarship to San Francisco State University at the same time she worked a 40-hour week as a waitress at a cafe. But when she applied for a credit card after graduation, she was turned down because she had no credit history.

“So three years ago, Ms. Kohli, now 34, joined a lending circle — a small group of people who chip in every month to lend money to one another at no interest. Managed by the Mission Asset Fund, a nonprofit group in San Francisco that works with credit-rating agencies, the circle offered Ms. Kohli something no bank would: a chunk of cash and a chance to build a credit score.

“After faithfully making payments — and socking away enough to buy a 1997 Ford Mustang — she raised her credit score from zero to 789 in 26 months. …

“Now these centuries-old networks are being seen as a promising tool to help low-income Americans build credit records, part of a new frontier of the war on poverty that has attracted a crazy-quilt coalition of supporters that include major banks, immigrant activists and academic researchers. In August, California became the first state to enact a law allowing nonprofits to offer small no-interest, no-fee loans, attracting unanimous support from Republican and Democratic lawmakers.” More here.

Hat tip to the Providence-based Capital Good Fund (@cgfund on twitter).


Financial Empowerment

Exciting news, forwarded by colleague Sol Carbonell.

The City of Boston has a brand-new financial-empowerment center, thanks to the efforts of a strong coalition, including people at the Boston Fed. Trinh Nguyen writes on behalf of Mayor Walsh’s administration, “We are pleased that we have been able to take so many positive steps in addressing financial opportunity over the last few months. … The announcement of the Roxbury Center for Financial Opportunity, along with the creation of the Office for Financial Empowerment has generated synergistic energy, including press from the Boston Globe, here, and Next City, here.”

Chris Reidy at the Globe reports, “The Roxbury Center for Financial Empowerment, based in Dudley Square, will be operated by the city, while a second financial opportunity center in the Financial District will be operated by the Jewish Vocational Service, which is among the groups supporting Walsh’s initiative. …

“Walsh cited data noting that 46 percent of Boston households do not have sufficient savings to live for three months if their incomes were disrupted by a job loss or a medical crisis. For African-American and Latino households in the city, those figures are 69 percent and 75 percent, respectively.

“Besides the Jewish Vocational Service, other groups partnering with Walsh on the poverty initiative include the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley and representatives from the Local Initiatives Support Corp., a group that seeks to revitalize neighborhoods.”

Nguyen also notes the relevance of Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s interest in the issue of inequality and cites her recent speech in Boston, here.

Photo: Janet Yellen at Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, October 2014



National Lead Poisoning Week

Jim Wilde, the executive director of the Merrimack Valley Housing Partnership (based in Lowell, Massachusetts), sent along some useful information yesterday.

“This is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.  We are bringing awareness to childhood lead poisoning and the importance of annual blood lead testing of children. The effects of elevated levels of lead in a child’s body are serious and may include learning disabilities, behavior problems, damage to hearing and speech, and slower than average growth and development.

“The City of Lowell has a Lead-Safe Program which offers Lowell home owners 0% interest loans for lead paint removal.  It is a terrific program managed by Toni Snow. The Merrimack Valley Housing Partnership provides in-take services for the City. Please contact Ed Alcantara for details.”

Readers might also be interested in this BBC story tying lead reductions to lower crime rates, here.

Meanwhile at Amherst College, Jessica W. Reyes continues studying lead exposure in detail. Here is a recent research paper. The abstract says:

Using data on two cohorts of children from the [National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth], this paper investigates the effect of early childhood lead exposure on behavior problems from childhood through early adulthood. I find large negative consequences of early childhood lead exposure, in the form of an unfolding series of adverse behavioral outcomes: behavior problems as a child, pregnancy and aggression as a teen, and criminal behavior as a young adult.



Success in the New Economy

Colleague Chris Shannon sent along this lead from a community college in California. It’s about the mismatch between today’s educational aspirations and available jobs. The graphics are super.

Citrus College supported the production of “Success in the New Economy” to help a broader audience begin to understand preparation today for tomorrow’s labor market realities. The end result is a compelling case for students to explore career choices early, make informed decisions when declaring their college education goal, and to consider technical skill acquisition, real-world application and academics (career technical programs) in tandem with a classic education. This balanced approach to life and learning results in a well-educated and employed workforce. … Direction and Motion Graphics: Brian Y. Marsh brianymarsh.com. Written and Narrated by: Kevin Fleming teloses.com.

The complete transcription of the video with data references is available here.


Video Explanations of the Economy

The Cleveland Fed’s Dan Littman sent me something that looks like a lot of fun: short and playful video explanations of how the economy works.

So far I have watched only the episode on money and half of the episode about the Federal Reserve (featuring a Fed president who has amnesia and has to have the Federal Reserve System explained to him by his children). I do think the series could be helpful for teachers and others who want an accessible way to explain economics.

See what you think. Go to We the Economy, here.