Spencer leads Woodstock Institute’s applied research for economic security program. Spencer joined Woodstock Institute in December 2011 after serving as Senior Research Associate at the Center for Urban and Regional Studies at the University of North Carolina. Before joining Woodstock, Spencer’s work included projects examining the impact of state laws promoting affordable housing in affluent suburbs, efforts to bring the middle class back to inner-city neighborhoods, the impact of regulation on the cost of new housing development, a program to securitize non-conforming mortgages, and the effectiveness of community-based mortgage foreclosure prevention programs.
Spencer received a Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from the University of North Carolina, an M.A. in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Florida, a J.D. from Boston University School of Law and an A.B. in Political Science from Columbia University.
Recent posts by Spencer Cowan
In a letter to the editor published by The Chicago Tribune, I respond to Steve Chapman’s February 10 article on Bernie Sanders and Wall Street finance. Chapman writes about the trust he has in the financial firm handling his 401(k) and that he has “to the best of [his] knowledge” never been defrauded. Chapman proceeds to invoke his broader trust in Wall Street actors, attempting to delegitimize and downplay the Sanders campaign’s criticism of the financial sector.
The pay-walled tribune article can be found here, and my letter is reproduced below.
Millions of low-wage workers and small business employees in the United States are approaching retirement with inadequate savings to supplement Social Security benefits that will replace less than half of their pre-retirement income. Those workers face a bleak financial future in which their standard of living will be much lower than what they now enjoy as they try to subsist on near poverty-level incomes.
Over the past year, Woodstock has expanded the work it has done to promote greater access to safe and affordable credit for small businesses, building on our 2014 report, Discredited: Disparate Access to Credit for Businesses in the Chicago Six County Region. That report examined lending by large banks to businesses in lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color, specifically small loans that are most likely to go to locally-owned, neighborhood businesses that provide jobs to local residents. The analysis of lending patterns showed that businesses in those neighborhoods were much less likely to have received loans from large banks than businesses in more affluent, predominantly white neighborhoods.
Ensuring that retirees can sustain themselves financially is important not only to those individuals, but to the communities they live in as well. Without sufficient economic security, retirees may not have enough money to pay for housing, buy medications, or travel to visit loved ones. That translates into a slower economy and larger demands on the social safety net. Unfortunately, the financial prospects for those planning on retirement are being threatened on all sides—but we can take steps to help people prepare for a more stable future.
Woodstock Institute, in collaboration with six other organizations, recently released a report showing that African American and Latino/a borrowers were about twice as likely to receive government-backed loans (GBL), either FHA or VA, as were white borrowers. Borrowers in communities of color, those that are 80 percent or more non-white, are more than twice as likely to receive GBLs than borrowers in communities that are less than 10 percent non-white. Those findings are troubling for three reasons.
Research Corner is a regular column from Woodstock Institute's vice president of applied research Spencer Cowan investigating data trends, posing new questions, and discussing how data inform public policy.
Information is the most important single ingredient for sound decision-making – more specifically, accurate, reliable, relevant, and timely information. This holds true whether the decision is being made in the private or public sector. Retailers need data about the surrounding communities that will provide the customer base when choosing new locations for their stores. Manufacturers need data about the availability of skilled workers, tax rates, and infrastructure when siting new plants. School boards choosing sites for new schools need data about where students live. Data enable the decision-makers to make better decisions—and the House of Representatives is trying to eliminate funding for one of the most important data sources in the country.