America Works Best When Everyone Is Included

By Guest Blogger Michael Morris, National Disability Institute Executive Director

All Americans should have equal opportunity to achieve financial independence, while also acquiring the skills to effectively manage their finances and make informed financial decisions.

Unfortunately, at the present time, this is not the case. Even now, 25 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) promoted “economic self-sufficiency” for people with disabilities, we continue to face many systemic hurdles that block access to a life of financial independence. Overcoming these challenges will not be easy, but today – for the very first time – we have a clearer picture of the path forward – with the release of a new National Disability Institute (NDI) report, Banking Status of Adults with Disabilities: Findings from the FDIC Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households.

Based on data mined from FDIC’s 2013 National Survey on Unbanked and Underbanked Households, the report highlights the nearly 50 percent unbanked and underbanked status and financial behaviors of people with disabilities. This report provides much-needed quantitative data that – until now – has been missing in research being conducted at the intersection of the disability and asset development communities.

Included in this report are recommendations for policy and program changes to address the financial and behavioral challenges that individuals with disabilities identify as barriers to being fully banked, a key aspect of financial inclusion.

Highlights include:

  • Among households headed by working-age persons with disability, nearly one-fifth were unbanked (18.4 percent) and more than one-fourth were underbanked (28.1 percent).
  • Households headed by working-age persons with disability were significantly more likely to report using alternative financial services than households headed by those without disability (46.7 percent vs. 35.1 percent, respectively).
  • Households headed by working-age persons with disability were significantly less likely to have a savings account (with or without a checking account) compared to households headed by those without disability (46.7 percent vs. 72.5 percent, respectively).

These findings amplify what we learned last year with the release of the NDI report, Financial Capability of Adults with Disabilities, including:

  • 81 percent of people with disabilities did not have an emergency fund to cover three months of expenses, as compared to 54 percent of people without disabilities;
  •  70 percent of people with disabilities could not come up with $2,000 in an emergency, as compared to 37 percent of people without disabilities; and
  •  50 percent reported they were “not at all satisfied” with their current financial condition, as compared to 30 percent of people without disabilities.

There is no quick reversal of trust or confidence from persons with disabilities, or other economically challenged populations, and there is no single or simple solution that will change the status, behaviors or attitudes among them. However, with public and private sector involvement, we can expand the inclusiveness of the banking system by engaging the disability community. Through the cooperation of government, financial institutions, businesses and community groups, we can design and implement strategies that improve informed financial decision-making, increase access to affordable and accessible financial products and services, build financial confidence and increase the economic inclusion of individuals with disabilities.

With the reauthorization of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which helps job seekers succeed in the labor market – especially youth and those with disabilities – and the passage of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act late last year, which will help improve the financial security of individuals with disabilities and their families – there is more opportunity than ever before for people with disabilities to join their peers without disabilities in the economic mainstream.

Mere months from the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the ADA, we can do more together to define and implement pathways to full financial inclusion.

To learn more about National Disability Institute, please visit www.realeconomicimpact.org

About the Guest Blogger

Michael Morris is the executive director of National Disability Institute (NDI) in Washington, D.C. Morris has over 30 years of experience in and outside of government, pioneering new strategies to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Morris serves as an advisor and technical expert to multiple federal agencies on policy and systems relationships at federal, state, and local levels to advance economic stability, mobility, and asset development for persons with disabilities.

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