At Catholic Charities Fort Worth, we create research-backed solutions to end poverty and transform lives.
Poverty is complex and there are multiple outcomes that can meaningfully contribute to a family’s journey out of poverty. That’s why we developed our Out of Poverty Pathways – to use research to better understand the multifaceted ways our programs and services contribute toward our vision of ending poverty, one family at a time.
But how do we know that what we’re doing works? To answer this question, here’s a behind-the-scenes glimpse of our research process, using our Financial Resiliency Pathway as an example:
We started by reviewing the latest research on financial resiliency.
The majority of studies agree that economic stability is key to remaining out of poverty. This involves more than stable income and employment. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) defines financial well-being as “a state of being wherein a person can fully meet current and ongoing financial obligations, can feel secure in their financial future, and is able to make choices that allow them to enjoy life.”
According to the CFPB, financial well-being includes:
- Control over day-to-day, month-to-month finances
- The capacity to absorb a financial shock
- Progress toward financial goals
- The financial freedom to make choices that allow you to enjoy life
At CCFW, we believe that every family needs and deserves true financial freedom. It’s this research that helped us define what we consider financial resiliency – the ability to absorb a financial shock. In 2019, 37% of adults reported they were unable to cover an unexpected expense of $400 (Federal Reserve, 2019). Steady income is not enough. Financial resiliency is about ensuring that an individual’s money serves them in the long-term and that an unexpected shock does not derail their progress.
Once we confirmed the link between financial well-being and addressing poverty, we needed a credible, reliable way to measure client progress.
The CFPB has developed a scale to measure the four above elements of financial well-being. They evaluate financial indicators such as a person’s credit rating, their savings, and their confidence in their ability to come up with $2,000 in 30 days.
Out of 100, the average score for U.S. adults is 54. Below are characteristics common among individuals on either side of the spectrum.
Scores under 51
Scores above 51
|Income less than $50,000
|Income more than $50,000
|Housing cost burden above 30% of income
|Housing cost burden under 30% of income
|Less than $1,000 in savings
|More than $1,000 in savings
|“I could probably/probably not come up with $2,000 in 30 days.”
|“I am certain I could come up with $2,000 in 30 days.”
|No habit of saving
|Have a habit of saving
|Turned down for credit
|Not turned down for credit
The CFPB scale has shown strong consistency and reliability when used to investigate the different elements of financial coaching programs, helping us understand what leads to improved financial well-being and financial resilience.
Using the CFPB scale, we surveyed our own clients.
Through preliminary data from one of our Financial Resiliency programs, MYMoney@Work, we observed a 29% increase in the number of clients with a score of more than 51 on the CFPB Financial Well-Being Scale after participating in the program. MYMoney@Work directly addresses several of the above characteristics evaluated by the CFPB scale – savings habits, debt reduction, credit building, and more. Our MYMoney@Work Navigators provide personalized financial coaching to help clients address their unique financial needs and make a plan to achieve their goals.
Using these survey results, combined with feedback from staff and clients, we’re able to make real-time changes to improve our services. For example, in MYMoney@Work, we are using these results to better identify the clients who need our services.
The goal of this process is to ensure our programs are truly helping our clients – and to understand what client success looks like within each of our Pathways. Similar to Financial Resiliency, we are identifying meaningful client outcomes and assessment methods for all of our Out of Poverty Pathways.
We’re using research to create solutions – and to end poverty.
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Our Research and Evaluation team works diligently to stay on top of current poverty-related research, as well as evaluate our own agency’s impact. This newsletter and blog series is an initiative to share our learnings and keep our supporters in-the-know.