400 words on resilience and becoming a follower leader.
The majority – 71 percent – of EARN’s Savers saved nothing in the six months prior to joining EARN’s online savings community. And 50% report expenses exceeding income in a typical month. These numbers represent the starting line for our Savers’ journeys.
By joining EARN, these families are committed to creating a better, more stable financial future.
One Saver told us in a phone interview, “We don’t just sit here and cry. We think: what are we going to do next?”
Our Savers are both resilient and creative when it comes to solving short-term financial problems. Common strategies include holding yard sales, driving for Lyft, or even running microbusinesses on eBay by selling items found at thrift stores. Savers resourcefully use a range of strategies to manage cash flow during tight months, but the options can be costly, stressful, and shameful. So, while we celebrate the resilience and capacity of our Savers, we must never lose sight of our true purpose: to change the systems that make it way too difficult for all people to prosper.
EARN is striking a balance between empowering individual financial responsibility and amplifying the voices of our Members. Within an economic and financial system that is at best poorly designed for low-income Americans, and at worst outright hostile toward them, we aim to increase the economic power of our Members.
In an interview with the New York Times last week, Family Independence Initiative founder Mauricio Lim Miller called upon us to become “follower leaders” by trusting that those we seek to “help” know more about what their family needs to achieve economic mobility than we ever could.
We agree. Through SaverLife, Savers set their own goals, whether it be for homeownership or a family vacation. We place no limits on the use of savings, including the match funds we provide. Our platform allows Savers to use the account of their choice across 9,000 financial institutions (including savings, checking and prepaid). We don’t require Members to “prove” their poverty before joining our community. And we create a dynamic data environment that combines large quantitative data sets with qualitative insights to guide our decision making and design.
As our political climate becomes increasingly chaotic, take heart from our Savers. They are challenging us to think resiliently about “what are we going to do next?” Our starting line is to grow the SaverLife community from a savings program to a movement, led by our members and strengthened by their numbers and their commitment.
Leigh is the president and CEO of EARN.