Washington University in St. Louis: Along with child tax credits, invest in child development accounts

Democrats have called for a permanent expansion of the monthly child tax credit, which will continue through the end of the year. In making the expanded credit permanent, lawmakers can leverage the power of child development accounts to build assets for all children in the United States, says a Washington University in St. Louis expert on asset building.

“We have an unusual opportunity to build wealth for every child in the United States,” said Michael Sherraden, the George Warren Brown Distinguished University Professor in the Brown School. “Our research has shown that this changes the outlook of parents and children while growing resources for education. Over time, an inclusive Child Development Account (CDA) policy will reduce extreme inequality, enable more children to reach their potential and create a more productive economy.”

Sherraden is director of the university’s Center for Social Development and a renowned expert on social policy and asset building.

He is co-author of two recent policy briefs on nationwide child development accounts and changes to state college savings plans.

“CDAs build assets to ensure that early investments are available to all children,” the authors write in the first brief. “Experimental research documents that CDAs have large positive effects on savings for college, with the largest effects among households of color, lower incomes and lower parental education.”

They argue that the policy instrument for delivering universal CDAs at scale already exists, namely state 529 college savings plans. With policy and practice changes, 529s could be a delivery system for CDAs.

“Giving every child an account and assets as early as birth, with more to those with greater disadvantage, can bring multiple policy proposals together, develop all of our children and secure the nation’s future,” Sherraden said.

He has spent years studying the impact of Oklahoma’s CDA experiment, SEED OK — which he was principal investigator on — finding positive outcomes for college savings account holding and savings as well as on mental health.

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